Watch a spacecraft land on a comet, live on Wednesday
If you are a fan of space, then you probably are already hooked by the headline of this article. A spacecraft is going to land on a comet, and you can watch it happen live.What more convincing do you need?
Although all the excitement will happen in the span of a few short hours, the mission is the culmination of more than a decade of work. The European Space Agency launched its Rosetta spacecraft back in 2004, and it finally reached Comet P67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August, according to IFLScience. From there, it began monitoring the comet, positioning itself for an eventual landing.
Rosetta will launch the 220lbs. robot lander, Philae, early Wednesday morning. It will then spend the next seven hours terrifying its designers, as it slowly moves into position. Assuming everything goes well, Philae will then land at the target area, designated Agilkia. Once down, Philae will fire off several harpoons to secure itself. It will then take a few minutes to get its bearings, then start sending back data to Rosetta – and from there, back to Earth.
This landing will mark the first time a human instrument has made a soft landing on a comet’s nucleus.
Once things are set, Philae will begin to utilize its ten instruments that are designed to test the composition and structure of the comet. The hope is that a better understanding of comets will help us understand what part comets played in the formation of Earth. Although not expressly stated, the data should also help with future plans to mine asteroids and comets.
The comet is too distant and too dim to be seen by even the most powerful amateur telescopes, but you will be able to watch it all happen live. The landing will be streamed in real time by the Slooh Community Observatory located in the Canary Islands, beginning at 11am PST on November 12. You can watch it all on Slooh’s site.
“This is the most exciting spacecraft mission since Cassini reached Saturn a decade ago,” Slooh astronomer and host for the event Bob Berman wrote in a press release. Berman will be joined during the broadcast by several guests, including many of the Rosetta mission scientists. The observatory encourages people to use the hashtag #SloohRosetta on Twitter to join the conversation.
“Comet 67P is heading toward its encounter with the Sun next summer, and as it does its ices will sublimate, pebbles and dust will be released — some as dramatic geysers from the comet’s surface –, and now we have a spacecraft right there sending us pictures and videos of the whole thing,” Berman continued. “It’s unbelievable — and this makes the attempted landing on its surface critically important, and nail-bitingly perilous.”
Image Credit: ESA