After 12 years chasing a comet across more than 6 billion kilometers of space, European scientists will end the historic Rosetta mission by crashing the spacecraft on the surface of the dusty, icy body at the end of this month.
The spacecraft has managed several historic firsts, including the first time a spacecraft has orbited a comet rather than just whizzing past to snap some fly-by pictures and the first time a probe has landed on a comet’s surface.
It was also the first mission to venture beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power.
After more than two years of circling comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, collecting a treasure trove of data that will keep scientists busy for years to come, the comet’s distance from the sun is nearing the point where solar power becomes too weak to operate the spacecraft and download data from its computers.
In the final hours of its controlled descent on Friday next week, Rosetta should be able to take close-up pictures of the comet and collect data on gases closer to the surface before joining Philae and shutting down forever.
“We haven’t been in those last 2km [to the surface] with Rosetta and we believe it’s fundamental in understanding how gases and dust get from the surface out to the outer atmosphere,” Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor told reporters ahead of Rosetta’s end-of-mission event at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Those who have worked on Rosetta say it by far exceeded their expectations by surviving the trip for as long as it did.
It sent its 100kg washing-machine-sized lander down to the surface in November 2014 in what was considered a remarkable feat of precision space travel, even if the lander ended up bouncing and coming to rest in the shade where it could not be recharged.
“We were going into the unknown,” ESA head of mission operations Paolo Ferri told reporters. “The spacecraft really surprised us.”
The Rosetta mission has inspired artists as well as scientists. Electronic music composer Vangelis has produced a new album called Rosetta, with the release timed for the end of the mission.
“We knew Rosetta was going to have a big impact, but didn’t know it was going to be this big and that people would be that interested in it,” Taylor said. “It had all the components — a long journey, adventure, technological challenges and danger and of course, the reason we are there for: cool science.”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
The dramatic quietening of towns and cities during lockdown in Britain has changed the way the Earth moves beneath our feet, scientists said. Seismologists at the British Geological Survey (BGS) have found that their sensors are twitching less now that human activity has been curtailed, leading to a drop in the anthropogenic din that vibrates through the planet. The fall in the human hum that rings around the world means that, in theory at least, the scientists should be able to detect smaller earthquakes in the UK, and more distant tremors in Europe and in countries further afield than their equipment usually