Rosetta

space

Very sadly, the Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission on September 30, 2016 by crashing onto the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. The probe set new records in history, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet and the first to land on one as well. The comet with the really long name is known as a Jupiter-family comet because its orbit follows the same general region as Jupiter but it may have originated from the Kuiper Belt, a zone past Neptune comprised of icy comets and rocks, similar to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but far larger. This is also where Pluto is located. It’s thought that the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet was ejected from this belt at some time and drifted into Jupiter’s orbit, establishing its new orbit. The comet consists of two larger globule shaped portions connected by a bridge, overall similar to a dumbbell and is a few kilometers across. Now the difference here is that a comet isn’t rocky; it’s closer to a large ball of ice.  For possible mining in the far future, you wouldn’t mine it for minerals but you could extract compounds from it for water in space.

The Rosetta probe landed onto the surface, allowing it to study the physics of the comet and take high quality photos all the way down. It is still fairly early for any real discoveries to be drawn but from the initial analysis of the acquired data there were some small ones. The surface was found to contain a plethora of organic compounds which are also emitted as dust off the comet. Some hopefuls have put forth the extraterrestrial microorganism theory but there is no proof to that end and these compounds have been found in a few other instances, meaning it may not be the best evidence for space germs. The reason it gets some people excited is because there exists a hypothesis that a meteorite crashed into life and that it contained organic compounds or microbes which then spread across the Earth to create life on our planet. So evidence would help give it credibility but any serious attempt to validate the idea will have to wait longer. The other interesting find was the discovery of molecular oxygen (O2) around the comet which has never been detected in comet comas before. It was thought that all the molecular oxygen in the solar system was burned or synthesized away so this should give a new mystery to the best and brightest of the European Space Agency.

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