September 12, 2016 8:58 pm

Tuesday, We Revisit Rosetta’s Doomed Journey of Discovery

Selfie taken by Rosetta and Philae showing Comet 67P. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA.

Rosetta’s Selfie, taken 0ct. 7, 2014 by Phila’s CIVA camera. Credit_ESA-Rosetta-Philae-CIVA.

The Rosetta spacecraft took off from Earth on March 2, 2004 on a 10-year journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, but it’s beginnings go back far earlier. According to the ESA, it was “approved as a Cornerstone Mission in ESA’s first long-term science programme (Horizon 2000) in November 1993.”

Now, after Rosetta arrived at the comet on August 6, 2014 and has spent more than 2 years studying the comet from orbit, the scientists in charge of the ESA mission are preparing to crash the spacecraft into the comet, continuing to gather data the entire way down.

Think about that for a moment.

If you worked on Voyager 1 back in the 70s, you can still gain comfort by the fact that Earth’s furthest traveled emissary is still out there, somewhere, exploring the universe.

If you were, or are, a Mars Rover driver, you can still see your vehicles on the Red Planet, and, at least in the case of Opportunity or Curiosity, still drive it further on its journey of exploration even though the warranty ran out long ago.

If you were one of the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon, you can still see the tools, experiments, vehicles and even the descent stage of the Lunar Module that brought you there.

But if you’re one of the many scientists that were involved with Rosetta, you won’t have that opportunity for much longer.

Like the scientists who crashed Messenger into Mercury or the scientists who crashed Deep Impact into Comet Tempel 1, the Rosetta team is purposefully planning a controlled impact to end their mission and wring every last drop of possible learning out of the opportunity.

And they don’t sound all that sad about it. At least, Rosetta Mission Project Scientist Matt Taylor doesn’t. He’s StarTalk All-Stars host Natalie Starkey’s guest on this week’s episode. Oh, and by the way, cosmochemist Natalie was also a scientist on the Rosetta team.

With a little help from Chuck Nice and some Cosmic Queries submitted by our listeners, tomorrow night Natalie and Matt take us on a retrospective of Rosetta, and its lander, Philae, to review all the great science and surprising discoveries we’ve gotten thanks to the mission.

Speaking of Philae, if you somehow traveled to Comet 67P years from now, you would likely still be able to see the plucky little lander, long after Rosetta’s remains are shattered and scattered across the comet’s surface. It’s just sitting there where it came to rest after a few too many bounces, in the shadows that prevented its solar panels from recharging, silent for all eternity.

Or, to paraphrase a favorite movie of many of our audience, “Philae abides.”

Join us for “Rosetta and Comet 67P, with Natalie Starkey – StarTalk All-Stars” at 7pm EDT on Tuesday, 9/13 on our website, and on iTunes Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher and TuneIn.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons