Feeds

Comet chasers seek secret of life

ESA mission launches next week

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Business security measures using SSL

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. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.