After a 10 year journey, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has rendezvoused with the 2.5 mile-wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the region of space between Mars and Jupiter. Rushing towards the inner solar system at around 30,000 miles per hour, the strangely shaped comet is presenting Rosetta’s controllers with some enormous challenges in establishing an orbit where the spacecraft’s instrument package (named “Philae”) can be deployed to land on the comet.
Rosetta is now just 60 miles from the comet’s surface but it will gradually edge even closer. Over the next six weeks it will travel through two triangular-shaped trajectories in front of the comet, first at a distance of 60 miles and then at 30 miles. Eventually, Rosetta will attempt a near-circular orbit at about 20 miles. However, there are enormous challenges in establishing such an orbit.
Discuss this article in our forum
More images from Rosetta
Thanksgiving close encounter looms for comet ISON
Comet smash simulations hint at life’s cosmic origins
Rosetta anomaly stumps scientists