Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UK scientists set to glimpse Rosetta as it swings by Earth


One year into its twelve year journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta mission will make a “close” flyby of Earth on Friday 4th March. UK scientists involved in the mission are hoping for a glimpse of the spacecraft which should be visible in the UK with the use of a telescope.

Whilst it has been visible to large amateur telescopes since 26th February, the best opportunity to view the spacecraft in Europe will be on Friday 4th March when it makes its closest approach to Earth. At a distance of 1900 km or 1,180 miles (the equivalent of a journey between Edinburgh and Rome) even the 32 metre solar panels on Rosetta are expected to be visible!

After sunset the spacecraft will appear to travel south east to south west, moving from the constellation Sextans towards the setting Sun, crossing the complete sky. As it heads west it will move faster and disappear below the horizon around 22.00 GMT. From Europe it will only reach a magnitude of +8 or +9 on the brightness scale used by astronomers. This is dimmer than a typical faint star and whilst not readily apparent to the eye will be able to be viewed and photographed (weather permitting) by a decent amateur telescope with digital imaging equipment. See notes to editors for details about ESA’s “Rosetta Up Close” photographic competition.

UK scientists, who are involved in 7 of the instruments/experiments on the orbiter and 4 on the lander, are eagerly awaiting a brief look at the spacecraft as it swings by. Professor Ian Wright from the Open University is Principal Investigator for the Ptolemy instrument on the Philae lander. He will be looking out for Rosetta from his back garden near Olney in Buckinghamshire.

“It’s amazing to think that on Friday night this spacecraft, which left Earth a year ago on a truly epic voyage, will be just a few thousand miles above our heads. Not only that, with luck (i.e. no clouds!), it should be visible in the night sky - I will be outside, around 10 pm, trying to observe it with my telescope and binoculars.”

Dan Andrews, a Phd student from the Open University, who works on Ptolemy adds, “This is just the second step on Rosetta’s journey, after Friday we will be heading towards a Mars flyby (26th February 2007), having robbed energy from the Earth as we slingshot towards our target comet.”

This is the first of four planet swing-bys (three with Earth and one with Mars) which Rosetta will make before reaching Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. Swing-bys are necessary to accelerate the spacecraft using the planet’s gravity, enabling it to reach the correct orbit once near the comet.

During the swing-by a number of activities are planned including a tracking test in preparation for the spacecraft’s flyby of two asteroids later in its journey (Steins in September 2008 and Lutetia in July 2010). This test of the asteroid tracking mode, will be carried out using the Moon, rather than an asteroid, as a target.

The Rosetta Plasma Consortium instruments, which UK scientists contributed to, are being switched on during the flyby. RPC team member Chris Carr from Imperial College explains more, “The Earth flyby gives us an excellent opportunity to calibrate the sensors, for example, the magnetometer can be checked against the very precisely known Earth-field at the low altitude closest approach point. In addition, Rosetta’s approach to Earth gives us a unique opportunity to do global magnetosphere studies with other operating missions such as Cluster and Double Star.”

As the oldest and most primitive bodies in the solar system comets provide the key to unlocking the secrets of the Universe. Comets have remained unchanged in comparison with other bodies within our solar system and provide the earliest record of materials in a pristine form.

On arrival at the comet, in around May 2014, the spacecraft will edge closer to the nucleus before deploying the Philae lander in November 2014. Once on the surface of the comet a whole range of scientific studies will be conducted in situ with the 10 instruments on board.

Gill Ormrod | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>