Shallow impact, deep implications

November 11, 2014

In the 1998 film Deep Impact, a team of Russian and American scientists land on a comet and, in an effort to save the human race, blow it up with limited success. This week a less dramatic, more interesting version of a comet landing is playing out at 34,000 miles per hour in the space between Mars and Jupiter.

As this Reuters infographic shows, Rosetta’s journey began ten years ago, and has featured swingbys of both Earth and Mars—to slingshot to the 84,000 mph needed to catch up to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko—as well as two asteroid flybys and an energy-saving hibernation period.

Launched in March, 2004, the European Space Agency approved the International Rosetta Mission back in November 1993. Rather than saving humanity, this mission aims to discover more about our solar system and the origins of Earth itself.

“It’s basically a time machine containing clues to the composition of the solar system,” Rosetta Mission Manager Fred Jansen said of the comet. Once the Philae lander touches down successfully, it will undertake a raft of science experiments which will last until the mission’s end at the close of 2015.

An Aviation Week blog post features links to tweets and a live webcast from mission control, and if you’re really, exceptionally excited about the comet landing,  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has made Facebook and Twitter cover and avatar images available for download.

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