Rosetta’s Goal in Sight

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as observed on Februaray 28th, 2014, with the Very Large Telescope.  Left: In order to make the comet visible, the scientists superposed several exposures. The images were shifted to compensate for the comet's motion. The stars appear as broadly smudged lines.  Right: Subtracting the starry backgrouns reveals the comet. Caption and Image © MPS/ESO

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as observed on Februaray 28th, 2014, with the Very Large Telescope.
Left: In order to make the comet visible, the scientists superposed several exposures. The images were shifted to compensate for the comet’s motion. The stars appear as broadly smudged lines.
Right: Subtracting the starry backgrouns reveals the comet.
Caption and Image © MPS/ESO

We can now see Rosetta’s goal, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko thanks to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the European Southern Observatory. The comet disappeared behind the sun last October and it is just now out of the glare enough to be seen.

They took the image above with ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Actually the image is several exposures stacked together. Think of it is adding all the images together to bring out the features. 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is small, around 3 x 5 km and it is about 740 million km / 460 million miles so it is very faint.

The new image suggests that 67P is beginning to emit gas and dust at a relatively large distance from the Sun – Colin Snodgrass from the MPS

The comet will become more visible to researchers as it gets closer.

Read more at the Max Planck Institute.

Hubble Catches Breakup

I first saw this and thought Hubble caught a comet breaking up, turns out it isn’t it’s an asteroid! Not to mention another Hubble first. The four largest fragments are as much as 200 meters in diameter.

“This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing,” said David Jewitt of UCLA, USA, who led the astronomical forensics investigation.

Get the story at ESA’s Hubble page.

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Watching Gaia

ESA’s Gaia satellite as seen with the Very Large Telescope Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Credit: ESO / ESA

The Gaia satellite is 1.5 million km away and is orbiting a spot in space known as L2. The spot,  L2 is a Lagrange point, think of it as a gravity balance point and makes a nice parking spot.  ESA has a more in depth explanation of Lagrange points..

ESA can actually keep tabs on Gaia visually. I think this is just amazing. Using the Very Large Telescope at the European Southern Observatory in Chile Gaia actually can be seen. It’s a very small satellite very far away, over a million times fainter than can be see with the human eye.

From the ESA caption:

To measure Gaia’s position in the sky, a network of small and medium telescopes are monitoring the spacecraft on a daily basis. This information is being fed into the orbit reconstruction being performed at ESA’s Space Operations Centre, yielding an accuracy of 150 m on Gaia’s position and of 2.5 mm/s on its motion.

These two images, taken about 6.5 minutes apart on 23 January, are the result of a close collaboration between ESA and the European Southern Observatory to observe Gaia.

Read the full ESA caption here.

Gaia Calibration

A calibration image from Gaia. Copyright ESA/DPAC/Airbus DS

Testing on the Gaia spacecraft is apparently going nicely if this image of NGC 1818 is any indication.

About the image from ESA:

A Gaia test image of the young star cluster NGC1818 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, taken as part of calibration and testing before the science phase of the mission begins. The field-of-view is 212 x 212 arcseconds and the image is approximately oriented with north up and east left. The integration time of the image was 2.85 seconds and the image covers an area less than 1% of the full Gaia field of view.

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Rosetta’s Goal

67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from the ESO on 05 Oct 2013. ESO / C. Snodgrass (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany)

Here is an image of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken on 05 Oct 2013. This is the comet ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft is destined to orbit. As far as I know this is the latest image of the comet.

The image was taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. We can see the comet with and without the background of stars.

The comet was about 500,000 km from Earth and heading behind the Sun from our perspective in its six and a half year orbit at the time. If you have about 15 minutes or so, I’d like to encourage you to visit ESA’s “Where is Rosetta“. This was fantastic look at Rosetta’s journey and gives a nice perspective into how much planning goes into a mission like this.

Partial screen shot showing the positions of Rosetta and 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from the “Where is Rosetta” page on the ESA site.

If you watch it from the begining, you will notice around late 2010 or early 2011 both the comet and Rosetta go “off screen”, click the “reset view” to zoom out to see it. I would suggest not hitting that link until then though as early on the orbits by Rosetta are pretty interesting as far as how the mission was set up to put the spacecaft in position to chase down Churyumov–Gerasimenko — it loses its flair zoomed out.

You can also move the slider along the time line if you are in a hurry.

ESA’s New Suit

ESA's new skinsuit could prevent injury.  Credit: ESA

ESA’s new skinsuit could prevent injury. Credit: ESA

Astronauts go through physical changes in response to weightlessness, I knew about the spine “decompressing”. What I didn’t realize is according to ESA astronauts has four times the chance of a slipped disk after a mission. What is in store for astronauts during longer missions when they do occur.

So when I was looking at this I was thinking there is not that much different than I see some people wearing at the gym. The difference is (and most likely not the only one) is the way the body suit works by squeezing the body from the shoulders down and not just squeezing.

Students from Kings College London, were subjects for a functional evaluation study I’m not sure if that is one of them in the image above or not. Making it look like fun though.

From ESA

The Space Medicine Office of ESA’s European Astronaut Centre is managing a project that could help astronauts overcome back problems in space, simply by wearing a high-tech tight-fitting ‘skinsuit’.

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Rosetta’s Orbit

You can’t help but marvel at this plan of getting Rosetta to orbit 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014.

The orbit will be as little as 25 to 30 km for imaging/mapping and all the way down to around 2.5 km before releasing the lander called Philae in November 2014.

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