The Planetary Society congratulates the European Space Agency on its Rosetta spacecraft arriving at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet.
"Both the phenomenal engineering and phenomenal patience of the entire Rosetta team are truly amazing! Congratulations to everyone involved!" said Jim Bell, President of The Planetary Society and Arizona State Professor.
Rosetta traveled more than 10 years and 6.4 billion kilometers to reach its cometary destination. To help modify its path to match the comet's orbit, the spacecraft's journey included three Earth and one Mars gravity-assist flybys, as well as scientific flybys of two asteroids. Rosetta will now spend the next year and a half flying along with the comet as it moves towards the Sun, allowing detailed study of the processes that form the comas and tails for which comets are famous. In November of this year, Rosetta will release the Philae lander to attempt the first ever landing on a comet.
"No one predicted the bizarre double-lobed appearance of this comet," said Planetary Society Senior Editor Emily Lakdawalla. "Each closer image rewards us with new surprises. In that way, it's like past comet missions. But Rosetta is the first-ever spacecraft that will thoroughly explore a comet, studying its crazy features from all sides in a lengthy orbital mission."
"Comets are remnants of the early solar system," said Planetary Society Director of Science and Technology Bruce Betts. "By providing the best cometary observations ever, Rosetta will not only teach us about comets, but also give us a window into the formation and evolution of our solar system."
"Like the stone it was named after," Lakdawalla continued, "Rosetta may give us the key to understanding the still-unexplained mysteries of the other comets we've visited."
The Planetary Society will provide ongoing coverage of the Rosetta mission as it develops at planetary.org/blogs.