Rosetta Gets an Extended Mission

Rosetta Approaching Comet - Copyright Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Rosetta Approaching Comet – Copyright Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

We’ve been watching the Rosetta mission with awe. Rosetta brought us our first contact and close up views of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta set a monumental standard because humans had never had close up views of a comet and we could study the images to learn more about the universe and its creation.

The ESA wasn’t going to stop there though, the Rosetta probe held the lander Philae. The lander was going to be dropped onto the comet and move around, studying Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the ground. The mission hit a snag when the Philae lander bounced a few more times then anticipated and came to rest in the shadow of a cliff. Because of it’s lack of sunlight, the Philae lander died after it’s batteries expired.

Rosetta has been orbiting the comet ever since, sending back images to study. A surprise came recently as the Philae lander was able to get some sunlight and turn back on, sending signals back to Earth. As exciting as that is, the Rosetta mission was scheduled to be ended in December of 2015.

However, the ESA has decided to extend the life of the mission for another nine months. During this time, the ESA is going to try some harder experiments by flying the probe closer to the surface, hoping at some point to catch the Philae lander that is on the surface. One of these flights will be on the night side of the comet, hoping to observe the plasma, dust, and gas interactions that happen in that region and to collect some dust for study by the probe.

In one last hurrah for the probe, the ESA is going to set the Rosetta lander down on the comet. It will take three months in a slower orbit for the lander to get to the end of its flight and land on the surface.

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