Wake Up ROSETTA!
Tomorrow is a big day for anyone – scientist, backyard astronomer, curious skywatcher – interested in comets. A Big Day. Tomorrow is when the European Space Agency probe ROSETTA is scheduled to wake from its two year long hibernation, and start preparing for its historic and long-awaited late 2014 encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (which many people are abbreviating, understandably, to “Comet Cherry Gerry”, and I will be doing too!). The probe is going to fly alongside the comet as it heads towards the Sun, thus allowing cometary scientists to enjoy, for the first time, close-up views of a comet nucleus as it “wakes up” and begins to come to life. But as exciting as that prospect is, the mission’s highlight for many will be when ROSETTA drops a smaller probe, “Philae”, onto the comet’s surface…
Philae will not only take the first in-situ images of a comet’s surface, which should be fantastic, but it will also analyse the composition of the surface too..!
The ROSETTA mission promises to revolutionise our understanding of comets, and so naturally there are many fingernails being chewed nervously as the Wake Up time – around 10am GMT on Monday 20th – approaches. If ROSETTA doesn’t wake up it will be awful, absolutely awful, but the mission scientists are very confident that all will be well, and even if Rosetta hasn’t phoned home by tomorrow evening – and we may not know until teatime UK time if she’s thrown back the duvet and swung her legs out of bed – there’s all sorts of things the scientists can do to address any problems.
But make no mistake, tomorrow morning is going to be very tense, and I’m sure the ESA’s ROSETTA websites, Facebook page and Twitter account will be groaning under the weight of demand for news and updates! I’ll have to follow events as they unfold via my phone, and Twitter, cos I’ll be at work, so my fingers will be well and truly crossed!
As many of you who came here looking for news and observing tips about Comet ISON – and, more recently, Comet Lovejoy – seem to have a real appetite for anything comety now, “WAITING FOR ISON” is going to be following the ROSETTA mission later in the year, giving updates on the mission’s science and, of course, showcasing the very best of the photos of Comet Cherry-Gerry as they arrive back on Earth. In the meantime let’s all wish the ROSETTA team the very best of luck for tomorrow.