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European spacecraft reaches comet after ten years

Credits: ESA–Jürgen Mai

After a decade of space travel the spacecraft Rosetta will come within 100 kilometres of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday.

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Rosetta travelled six billion kilometres in ten years to get to its destination, four times making using of the gravitational force of Mars and Earth to slingshot the satellite towards its target.

The Rosetta project is the biggest undertaking by the European Space Agency (ESA). It costs 1.3 billion euro and aims to increase scientists’ understanding of comets.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is approximately 400 million kilometres from the earth.

The three tonne Rosetta spacecraft will aim to follow the elliptic orbit of the comet around the sun for the next few months and observe as much as possible about its surface in preparation for a landing planned in November.

If all goes according to plan, Rosetta will then travel to within a few kilometres of the comet, and send down a refrigerator-sized robot called Philae. Philae will conduct surface experiments about the texture and chemical make-up of “C-G”.

Rosetta will then accompany the comet as it continues around the sun and heads out towards the orbit of Jupiter.

Comets are ice clusters made up of the oldest dust in the Solar System, believed to be left over from the formation of the planets 4.6 billion years ago.

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