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.

Video

Phobos Flyby

Mark your calendars, tomorrow (29 December 2013) ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft will flyby the Martian moon Phobos at just 45 km / 28 miles! That’s close!

So close in fact, the Mars Express will be pulled “a few tens of centimeters” off course. ESA scientists will be ready, they will be measuring the small changes in the frequency of the radio signals and turn them into measurements of gravity, mass, and density at different locations on the moon. Cool stuff!

The closest approach will be at 07:09 UTC, let’s see that’s 02:09 EST. For perspective this animation is at x 1000 speed.

ESA’s Mars Express page

Video source

Gaia Launched!

With this launch ESA has advanced the potential for a huge leap forward in astronomical science.

No not over-stated at all. The “potential” will be realized when Gaia starts operation and gathering science data. Exciting stuff, this has been a LONG time coming.

Congrats ESA!

All about Gaia from ESA:

ESA’s Gaia mission blasted off this morning on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on its exciting mission to study a billion suns.

Gaia is destined to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. By making accurate measurements of the positions and motions of 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars, it will answer questions about the origin and evolution of our home Galaxy.

The Soyuz launcher, operated by Arianespace, lifted off at 09:12 GMT (10:12 CET). About ten minutes later, after separation of the first three stages, the Fregat upper stage ignited, delivering Gaia into a temporary parking orbit at an altitude of 175 km.

A second firing of the Fregat 11 minutes later took Gaia into its transfer orbit, followed by separation from the upper stage 42 minutes after liftoff. Ground telemetry and attitude control were established by controllers at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, and the spacecraft began activating its systems.
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Herschel/Hubble and the Crab Nebula

The Hubble/Herschel composite of the Crab Nebula.  Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant  Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)

The Hubble/Herschel composite of the Crab Nebula Click for larger. Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS Key Programme Supernova Remnant Team; NASA, ESA and Allison Loll/Jeff Hester (Arizona State University)

As the NASA caption below explains this is composite image of the Crab Nebula from Hubble and Herschel. ESA has a nice explanation of the Herschel data along with links to an image and a portion of spectrum. Active Argon? Cool stuff!

From NASA (larger versions of the image available here):

This image shows a composite view of the Crab nebula, an iconic supernova remnant in our Milky Way galaxy, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Herschel is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission with important NASA contributions, and Hubble is a NASA mission with important ESA contributions.
A wispy and filamentary cloud of gas and dust, the Crab nebula is the remnant of a supernova explosion that was observed by Chinese astronomers in the year 1054.

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Swarm Launched

ESA’s SWARM satellites are successfully launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia this morning in what has to be one of the prettiest launches I’ve seen in a long while. The launch went off perfectly at 12:03 UTC. ESA has since acquired signals from all three satellites so it would sound as if things are going smoothly.

The mission is going to be a very interesting one: study the magnetic field. Sounds simple, but it’s not so much. For example we know the magnetic field is basically set up by the molten core of iron at the Earth’s center.

Video source