Feeds

Comet chasers seek secret of life

ESA mission launches next week

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Next Thursday, a rocket carrying a robotic explorer will launch, marking the start of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to land on a comet.

The mission will take 10 years, with the lander making three fly-bys of earth and one of Mars before it reaches its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in 2014.

The Ariane 5 rocket will launch from Kourou in French Guiana. For large sections of the journey, the craft will fly in hibernation mode, to save on fuel. But it will still make some observations en route, and will activate its camera on approach to send back images of the comet. This will enable the ESA team to improve calculations about the position, size and orbit of the cosmic snowball.

Once on the surface, the Philae lander will conduct a range of experiments with the 10 instruments on board. The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) funded development and construction of two key instruments: the Ptolemy experiment on the Philae lander (Open University and CCLRC-Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) and the Plasma Interface Unit (PIU, Imperial College, London) built for the Rosetta Plasma Consortium instrument package on the orbiter. The PIU will study the nature of the solar wind’s interaction with the comet.

Ptolemy will analyse the nature and distribution of the most important cometary surface materials. Its experiment is based upon a coupled gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer. The plan is that these will determine the abundance and stable isotopic compositions of elements such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.

Dr. Ian Wright, principal investigator on the Ptolemy project, said the study of these biologically important elements is "strongly implicated in humankind's quest to understand the origin of life on Earth".

The study of comets is important because they open a window into the earliest days of the solar system. They have remained essentially unchanged, relative to other orbiting bodies. They are also known as the bringers of life, and are credited with bringing the lighter elements to the surface of earth, playing a crucial part in forming our atmosphere and our seas. Some speculate that the earliest seeds of life – organic molecules - may also have arrived by comet. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Antarctic ice THICKER than first feared – penguin-bot boffins
Robo-sub scans freezing waters, rocks warming models
Your PHONE is slowly KILLING YOU
Doctors find new Digitillnesses - 'text neck' and 'telepressure'
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Designing and building an open ITOA architecture
Learn about a new IT data taxonomy defined by the four data sources of IT visibility: wire, machine, agent, and synthetic data sets.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.