Overdue by an agonising fifteen minutes, signals confirmed that the European Rosetta spacecraft had woken up from its 3 year enforced hibernation and was beginning to warm and orient itself to make contact with the tracking stations on Earth. Launched in 2004, Rosetta has been coasting in an elongated narrow elliptical orbit, gradually picking up speed as it whipped by Earth and Mars until there was enough momentum for Sir Isaaac Newton to steer it on its way to its ultimate goal, the approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. With final course corrections in May, Rosetta will head for a delicate and nerve racking orbital rendevous with the comet in August . The real showpiece will be to land the attached probe Philae onto the comet’s surface where it will latch itself down. Both Rosetta and Philae will work together sending unprecedented amounts of data and pictures from this ancient relic of the early days of the universe. As it approaches the sun the comet should begin to warm and vent off the trapped gases which will all be observed at close quarters. The two craft will stay with the comet as it moves away from the sun and back into deep space. For more information go to the ESA web site and for a description of the mission go to here
Talk and observing – details to follow.