Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (aka CG-67P) is showing the early formation of it’s jets. Those jets are what cause the formation of the most distinguishing characteristic of any comet — it’s tail. The Rosetta spacecraft is currently in orbit about the comet and it is assumed that as the pair orbit closer to the sun, these jets will become much more active and should provide quite a show for us. The Rosetta team has also recently shared the potential landing sites for it’s Philae Lander in November shown here.
Archive for the 'Minor Bodies' Category
Dramatic view and the highest resolution of the comet so far filling the view. See also this version (if you have 3-D glasses handy).
Rosetta has officially arrived at 67P/CG and here is today’s look. These images have apparently been brightened considerably as the comet is supposedly darker than fresh asphalt. It would be good to see what that actually looks like, perhaps something will surface.
Image from 130km. Each pixel is about 2.4 meters.
This mission is just not getting enough public attention. Launched in 2004, the mission has already flown by Mars and two minor asteroids 2867 Šteins in 2008, and of 21 Lutetia in 2010. However, the real target of the mission is coming this week… a comet with the unforgivable name 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta will go into orbit around the comet and observe it for the coming months as it nears the Sun which will cause it to start acting more like a comet and forming the familiar tail. As if that were not enough, a small lander named Philae will attempt to land and attach itself to the comet in November.
Especially if you have kids with an appreciation for science. These guys regularly do great animations that explain complex science — appropriate for all ages. They also promise a series of cool videos about cool moons in our solar system. So far they have only covered our own, next up… Mars’ Deimos and Phobos.
Somehow we missed this image of Comet Hartley in Nov of 2010. Now that the probe that was Deep Impact (known as Epoxy in the extended mission) has passed away, I thought it a good excuse to show this amazing shot which has far more detail than the two we published here previously.
I just found this on Gordan Ugarkovic’s Flickr page. I just sped up the frame rate.
The Dawn Spacecraft has been orbiting at Vesta for some time now. Surely some great science, but visually we are looking at an object that reminds us very much of the Martian moon Phobos. And like so many of the smaller rocky bodies of the inner solar system — up close, most images could easily pass for Apollo images of our own moon.
However, there are some things we haven’t seen very much of on rocky surfaces like Vesta. Dark and light ejecta material reminds us more of what we see at Iapetus and Hyperion (both Saturnian moons) — which are largely moons of ice.
The grooves which nearly reach all the way around Vesta are very similar to the grooves found on Phobos (a rocky Martian moon). Many scientists believe those lines came from the cataclysmic event that formed Stickney Crater which nearly shattered the small moon, but instead left behind rippled scars as gravity pulled it all back together. Similarly, an enormous crater at the Vesta’s south seems to correspond to these multiple ridges.
In contrast to nearly every other phase of the mission to and from Itokawa, the re-entry and landing on Earth went without a hitch. The capsule was retrieved and returned to Tokyo, where hopefully it will contain the first ever asteroid samples that did not go through the extreme heat of passing through the Earth atmosphere.
If you Google “Hayabusa” you will likely find a few articles about a mission plagued by problems and will leave you with the impression that the engineers at JAXA are a bunch of bumbling goons. What you will find less of is the fact that a sample-return mission is just about the most difficult types of missions any organization can attempt. As a matter of fact, only 4 sample-return missions (other than Apollo) have ever been successfully executed in history. Two Lunar missions by the Soviets with Luna 20 and 24 and much later, two American lead missions Genesis and Stardust which collected space dust and cometary particles. It is worth noting also that only two of those missions actually included landing on the surface of another body, grabbing some samples and then returning home. So for JAXA to even attempt such a bold mission without having even 1% the robotic mission experience of the USA and the Russians is all by itself an accomplishment.
So what were the failures? Well, there is a long list of issues including: a Solar Flare that destroyed solar cells aboard the craft, two reaction wheels that control movement failed, two attempts to fire pellets at the surface failed (to kick up the samples into the collection cannister) and finally a whole litany of communication errors, fuel leaks and telemetry issues which put the mission in serious doubt of ever returning to Earth. To make a long story short — the probe did touch-down on the surface of asteroid Itokowa. The first such mission ever intentionally designed to do so (NASA did have an impromptu touch down on 433 Eros in 2000, but that was more a controlled crash). Despite the pellet failures, mission specialists think that the very act of touching down was likely to kick up enough dust to collect some materials in the collection canister. After much wrangling with a seriously debilitated spacecraft they managed to get Hayabusa on make-shift trajectory back to Earth, very much later than planned… but home just the same.
With fingers crossed, the sample package is to parachute down in South Australia on or around June 13th at which point it will be shuttled back to Japan and hopefully they will find something contained within. Even if it is just a few particles, it will still be the only samples of asteroid particles un-altered by the extreme heat of a natural Earth entry (aka: a meteor) and only the 3rd time in history a probe landed on another world and returned a piece of it back to Earth for study. Not bad for the new kids in space.
Pictured at top is a frame from the trailer “Hayabusa Back to Earth” in anticipation of the potentially successful sample-return mission. It appears to be a 3-D render based on actual images returned from the mission. The second is an actual image with the shadow of the spacecraft as it maneuvered to a close encounter with its target. The third image illustrates what touch-down may have been like for Hayabusa. You can see the large amount of theoretical dust kicked up by the thrusters which may be JAXA’s best hope for actually having captured particles in the sample-return canister.
What NASA thinks we might be looking at here is an asteroid that was recently shattered by another asteroid, giving it a comet-like appearance. It stays within the asteroid belt, so it cannot be a comet as those objects are known to be dusty ice-balls that stay in highly elliptical orbits around the Sun.