There have been several important pieces of news about European missions in the last month: Rosetta's fate has been determined; ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's launch is slightly delayed; and they have selected a landing site for the ExoMars rover.
When Rosetta approached comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko last summer, both its shape and its activity were surprising. It looked like two comets welded together at a skinny neck. A new paper explains how the neck may be steepening itself.
A terrific new visualization tool for comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko demonstrates the value of sharing mission image data with the public. The browser-based tool lets you spin a simulated 3D view of the comet. It began with a 3D model of the comet created not by ESA, but by a space enthusiast, Mattias Malmer.
I'm back from two weeks' vacation, so it's time to catch up on the status of all our intrepid planetary missions, from Akatsuki to the Voyagers and hitting the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, and Saturn in between.
As a followup to yesterday's post about Dawn, Juno, and OSIRIS-REx, I have updates on two more missions. With this post, I hope to have cleared the decks so that I can focus on Pluto for the next week!
Last week, the European Space Agency released the first set of images from Rosetta's navigational camera, or NavCam, from the phase of the mission that followed the Philae landing. That makes more than 3500 NavCam images that have been released from the comet phase of the mission.
I woke up early Sunday morning to the dramatic news: Philae is back! With a few days to consider the telemetry, the Philae team is now talking about the science they hope to do. With comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko approaching perihelion in August, it's going to be an exciting ride.
In the two months since I last checked up on the Rosetta mission, the comet has heated up, displaying more and more jet activity. Rosetta completed very close flybys on February 14 and March 28, taking amazing photos. But comet dust is making navigation difficult, so the mission is now keeping a respectful distance from the comet and replanning its future path.
Dawn has successfully entered orbit at Ceres, becoming the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to orbit two different bodies beyond Earth. I also have updates on Curiosity, Rosetta, Mars Express, Hayabusa2, the Chang'e program, InSIGHT, and OSIRIS-REx.
Rosetta has closed to within 50 kilometers of Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on its way to a very close, 6-kilometer flyby of the comet tomorrow. To prepare for the flyby, Rosetta traveled much farther away, allowing it to snap these amazing photos of an increasingly active comet from a great distance.
For the period of time before and after the Philae landing, Rosetta was able to orbit the comet close enough that it was in gravitationally bound orbits, circling the comet's center of gravity. As the comet's activity increases, the spacecraft has to spend most of its time farther away, performing occasional close flybys. The first of these is at 6 kilometers, on February 14.
The first results of the Rosetta mission are out in Science magazine. The publication of these papers means that the OSIRIS camera team has finally released a large quantity of closeup images of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken in August and September of last year. I explain most of them, with help from my notes from December's American Geophysical Union meeting.