[meteorite-list] Rosetta Wishes CONTOUR Luck Chasing Comets

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 10:01:35 2004
Message-ID: <200206272350.QAA20160_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

ESA Science News

27 Jun 2002

Rosetta wishes CONTOUR luck chasing comets

Comets are suddenly in vogue in space research. ESA is getting ready
to send its comet chaser Rosetta in January 2003 to rendezvous with
Comet Wirtanen and study it in immense detail. Rosetta aims to
physically drop a lander on a comet for the first time. Before that,
however, on 1 July 2002, NASA will dispatch its CONTOUR spacecraft
to fly past at least two comets, and it has two other small comet
missions planned.

What makes comets special is that they contain raw materials left
over from the birth of the Sun and the planets. Finding out what
comets are made of gives scientists priceless clues to both the
origin of the Earth and the origin of life. It is also important
for planning possible defences, if a comet should threaten to
collide with the Earth, as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 did with the
planet Jupiter in 1994.

Comets have always been attractive to scientists and to the general
public. However, they are elusive objects and catching one is very
difficult. For this reason, different space projects have different
aims. In 1986, two Japanese, two Soviet and one European spacecraft
flew past Halley's Comet. ESA's Giotto went closest to the nucleus
of the comet. It sent back wonderful pictures and data for
scientists to analyse. Although damaged by Halley's dust, Giotto
went on to fly even closer to Comet Grigg-Skjellerup in 1992.

In the follow-up, ESA has one major project, Rosetta, and NASA
three small ones, Stardust, CONTOUR, and Deep Impact. Stardust is
already on its way to gather dust from close to Comet Wild and
return it to the Earth. CONTOUR, leaving shortly, will make fast
but very close fly-bys of Comets Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3,
investigating why comets can be so different from one another.
Deep Impact, due for launch in January 2004, will shoot a large
copper ball into the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1. Its fireworks
show, on 4 July 2005, will scatter subsurface comet matter into
space for analysis by telescopes back at the Earth.

ESA's Rosetta, however, is the one milestone mission that comet
scientists have wanted since the Space Age began. It will fly
past Comet Wirtanen, go into orbit around its nucleus, and drop
an instrumented lander on it. Named after the famous stone with
inscriptions that held the key to understanding ancient Egyptian
civilisation, Rosetta will cruise alongside the comet for 17
months while Wirtanen nears the Sun. Unlike previous brief
impressions, Rosetta promises to give us the first complete
picture of a comet's composition and behaviour.

Comet scientists on both sides of the Atlantic are already
cooperating fully. For example, Jochen Kissel of Germany's
Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik is responsible
for the comet dust analysers on CONTOUR and Stardust, as well as
on Rosetta. He is a veteran of the Soviet and Giotto missions to
Halley's Comet. The CONTOUR science team has Gerhard Schwehm,
who is also ESA's project scientist for Rosetta.

"We're all after the same knowledge," Schwehm comments "What we
learn from the NASA missions will help us to be even better
prepared for our big task at Comet Wirtanen. So all of us in
ESA's Rosetta team say, 'Bon voyage, CONTOUR, and happy comet
chasing!' "


* More about Rosetta
* Missions to study comets
* More about comets
* More about Contour


[Image 1:
This artist's impression shows Rosetta, its lander, and Comet

[Image 2:
Rosetta will drop a lander onto a comet for the first time. This
artist's impression shows the Rosetta Lander anchored to the
comet's surface with instruments, legs and solar panels.

[Image 3:
This artist's impression shows the NASA Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR)
spacecraft. After a 1 July 2002 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Florida, United States, aboard a Delta II rocket, CONTOUR
will encounter at least two near-Earth comets, providing the closest
and most detailed look ever at the rocky, icy nucleus of a comet.
Received on Thu 27 Jun 2002 07:50:46 PM PDT

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