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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds The Rosetta Mission. For centuries, humans have gazed at comets blazing in the sky, from ancient civilizations to early astronomers, right up to the current generation of space scientists and engineers who created a daring mission to explore a comet up close. The mission is called Rosetta. The team behind it, the European Space Agency. The Rosetta team have overcome many challenges. Its first launch was aborted, missing the chance to visit Comet 46p. But they had a backup, 67p, Churyomov-Gerasimenko. After 10 years of travelling through space to play catch up with a comet, Rosetta launched a small probe called Philae to land on 67p in November 2014.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds However, the harpoons and the rocket designed to lock the probe onto the surface, failed to fire. Little Philae, weighing as much as AAA battery on earth, bounced up, then landed down, only to bounce again. The instruments on board were unharmed. But Philae landed in a crevice too dark for solar power. The race was on as the mission control team tried to download the data before Philae’s battery was depleted. They managed to gather over 80% of the data they set out to capture from Philae before it went into hibernation. Then in June 2015, they were overjoyed to hear Philae transmit again. A 67p approach to sun, the energy striking the comet increased enough to bring Philae back to life.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds Using the data collected by both Rosetta and Philae suite of high tech instruments, scientists have been learning about the comet’s chemical makeup on the surface and in its atmosphere. They’ve discovered four different organic compounds never before seen on a comet. From Philae’s haphazard bouncy landing, they discovered that part of the surface are soft as snow, while others are as hard as volcanic rock. Future missions could visit more distant comets from beyond the orbit of planet Neptune in the Kuiper Belt, or even beyond that in the Oort cloud, the vast bubble of billions of ice chunks, home to the longest travelling comets.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds By studying a variety of these icy time capsules, scientists hope to find out how life started on the young planet Earth billions of years ago.

The Rosetta Mission

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission captured the interest and imagination of a generation all over the world!

Take a look at our video which explains what Rosetta (the orbiting spacecraft) and Philae (the lander) have achieved as well as the impact the mission has had on our knowledge of our very own solar system.

The science goals of the mission were to:

  • Study Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko
  • Examine the change in the physical and chemical nature of the comet as it approached the Sun
  • Analyse the composition of the comet via the Philae lander
  • Explain the origin of the comet and the evolution of the Solar System

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This video is from the free online course:

Our Solar System and Beyond: Teaching Primary Science

Royal Observatory Greenwich