A comet made famous when the European Space Agency Rosetta mission landed on its surface has made its closest approach to Earth, astronomers have revealed.
Comet 67P came within 39 million miles of the Earth, or about 160 times further out than the moon, on Friday – the closest the space rock has come to our planet since it was first discovered in 1969, and the closest it will come for the next 200 years.
Also known as Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it is a Jupiter-family comet, originally from the Kuiper belt, orbiting the sun every 6.45 Earth years.
The duck-shaped comet, about 2.6 miles across, was nicknamed Rubber Ducky by the Rosetta team, who oversaw a visit by an orbiter and lander in 2014.
Rosetta, and its companion Philae lander, was the first mission to land on the surface of a comet, sending valuable data back to Earth about these orbital ice balls.
A comet made famous when the European Space Agency Rosetta mission landed on its surface has made its closest ever approach to Earth
Comet 67P came within 39 million miles of the Earth, or about 160 times further out than the moon on Friday, the closest the space rock has come to our planet since it was first discovered in 1969, and the closest it will come for the next 200 years
WHAT HAS THE ROSETTA MISSION DISCOVERED?
Rosetta, a European Space Agency mission, orbited and crash landed into Comet 67P from 2014 to 2017.
It also sent its companion, the Philae lander, to the surface of the ice ball.
Among a range of discoveries about the snowball’s surface features, coma and orbit, there were some surprises:
Fluffy interior: A study of the landing site found it has a surprisingly fluffy interior, as soft as the foam that’s on top of your cappuccino.
Building blocks of life: They found ice in the comet includes the key building blocks of DNA and proteins – amino acid glycine and mineral phosphorus.
Northern lights: Another study found evidence of an aurora around the orbiting ball of ice and dust.
The orbit of the famous comet has now started to diverge from that of the Earth, according to astronomers, who say it won’t return until 2214.
It may still still be possible to see the snowball with a larger back garden telescope, by looking in the direction of Pollux, the brightest star in the Gemini constellation, although with a magnitude of 13, it will be difficult to spot.
It hit the headlines when ESA’s Rosetta mission entered orbit around the comet, after a 10-year journey from Earth.
The Philae lander was the main attraction, becoming the first human-made object to land on a comet in December 2014.
Among the discoveries made were that the icy comet appears to carry some of the key building blocks of DNA and proteins – the amino acid glycine and the mineral phosphorus.
Analysis of a giant dent made by Philae on the comet’s icy boulders during its ‘second touchdown’ in 2014 provides new insights into the softness of the exposed ice.
Philae bounced as it landed on the comet six years ago and European researchers have finally found its second touchdown site, which they’ve named ‘skull-top ridge’ for its apparent skull-like appearance.
Although the first and third landing points were identified previously, the location of the second site had remained unknown until now.
‘This ice that’s 4.5 billion years old is as soft as the foam that’s on top of your cappuccino, it’s as soft as sea foam on the beach, it’s softer than the softest snow after a snowstorm,’ explained study author Laurence O’Rourke.
‘You cannot just hit it with an object and expect it to move or disintegrate – it would be like punching a cloud.
‘The shape of the boulders impacted by Philae reminded me of a skull when viewed from above, so I decided to nickname the region “skull-top ridge”.’
Astronomers were also able to use Rosetta instruments to discover comets have their own version of the Northern Lights.
Also known as Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it is a Jupiter-family comet, originally from the Kuiper belt, orbiting the sun every 6.45 Earth years
Rosetta, and its companion Philae, lander, was the first mission to land on the surface of a comet, sending valuable data back to Earth about these orbital ice balls
Experts from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) identified the shimmering phenomenon, which on Earth happens when charged particles from the Sun follow the magnetic field lines to the south and north poles of the Earth.
They strike atoms in the atmosphere and create a shimmering curtain of colourful lights in the sky, and similar aurora have been seen on other planets and moons.
Around Comet 67P, it was caused by charged particles coming on solar winds and interacting with the coma – gas and dust – surrounding the nucleus of the comet.
THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY ROSETTA PROBE GETTING A CLOSE LOOK AT COMET 67P
The comet, known as ’67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko’, or just 67P for short, orbits Jupiter at a rate of once every six-and-a-half years.
Incredible images captured by the Rosetta space probe have just been released as part of a huge archive of 70,000 photos. They highlight key features of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
It was named after the two Soviet astronomers who discovered it in 1969, and measures around 2.7 by 2.5 miles (4.3 by 4.1 km) at its longest and widest points.
The comet was the focus of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, launched on 2 March 2004.
Rosetta was sent to study the comet’s activity and to launch a lander probe to its surface, known as Philae.
Rosetta reached 67P in 2014 and crash landed into the comet in September last year after it had completed its recon mission.
New details from the probe’s readings are still coming to light today as scientists sift through Rosetta’s stunning imagery.
This includes the discovery of an aurora surrounding the comet caused by charged particles in solar winds interacting with the comet’s coma.