After a decade-long journey chasing its target, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta, carrying three NASA instruments, became the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet. The last of a series of 10 rendezvous maneuvers that began in May, to adjust Rosetta’s speed and trajectory to gradually match those of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, occurred today (Aug. 6, 2014).
“After 10 years, five months and four days traveling towards our destination, looping around the sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometers, we are delighted to announce finally we are here,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director General.
The latest images of the comet taken by Rosetta are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/rosetta.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Rosetta are 252 million miles (405 million kilometers) from Earth, about halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars. The comet is in an elliptical, 6.5-year orbit that takes it from beyond Jupiter at its farthest point, to between the orbits of Mars and Earth at its closest to the sun. Rosetta will accompany the comet for over a year as it swings around the sun and back out towards Jupiter again.
Rosetta is 62 miles (100 kilometers) from the comet’s surface. Over the next six weeks, it will fly two triangular-shaped trajectories in front of the comet, first at the 62-mile (100-kilometer) altitude and then down at 31 miles (50 kilometers). At the same time, the spacecraft’s suite of instruments will provide a detailed scientific study of the comet, scanning the surface to identify a target site for its comet lander, Philae. Eventually, Rosetta will attempt a close, near-circular orbit at 19 miles (30 kilometers) and, depending on the activity of the comet, may come even closer.