Race is on to touch down on COMET 67P before WHIFFY SPACE DUCK breaks up
Secrets of the Solar System could be hidden inside
Vid Rosetta robot probe, Philae, is set to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, 12 November, when the craft's decade-long chase to reach the speeding, icy cosmic rock hits its target – if all goes to plan.
But how long can we expect the comet to live? The European Space Agency's project scientist Matt Taylor said in a press briefing on Friday:
That's the magic of comets. How long is a piece of string? We don't know ... ultimately comets only have a limited amount of fuel and a limited lifetime. We hope and expect that the comet will live up to the end of next year, hopefully, but it may not, it may break up, we don't know. That's part of the mission itself is to try and understand how a comet works. So if does that, we've learned something.
The British boffin added that he and the Rosetta team hoped it doesn't split apart any time soon, as it could hugely complicate the mission to fly round fragments of the duck-shaped, stinky 67P cosmic rock.
Taylor said that comets were "unpredictable beasts, but that's what makes them so special."
"We're all excited about this ... Rosetta's cool, it's the sexier mission ever, stay tuned," he added. ®
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