June 24th, 2014 14:18 EST
NASA's Rosetta Spacecraft to Explore the Strange and Mysterious Make-up of Comets
"Comets have always been a fascination to Astronomers throughout the Ages of space exploration. These little balls of glowing gases provide a sight that cannot be matched with the definition of beauty as they stream through the sky like little balls of power. Scientists have always wanted to get a closer look at comets and now NASA is taking the first step at accomplishing this." (Anselm, R.)
I think the first time I ever saw a comet was when I was still a twinkle in my Mom`s eye or in other words a very little guy. If I remember, I was outside playing in the backyard and the sun was slowly sinking below the horizon as the night sky was starting to take over. Something caught my eye as I looked up and saw a brilliant sight of a brightly lit ball sliding over the horizon. It was so bright and colorful with a tail brighter that a flash of lightening it took my breath away. I felt excitement as I watched this strange object pass over my head and towards nowhere. I then caught my senses and of course as a little kid not knowing what the heck I was looking at became a little frightened. I probably thought to myself, Are these those little green men flying over my head that I see on those evening shows on television? And then with that thought I probably ran towards the house yelling, Mommy, Mommy Martians are flying over us, come look!
Before we moved to Los Angeles when I was four years old we lived in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas where I was born. If anyone has been to Wichita you know it has that out in the country look or at least it did back then. You can see anything and everything that flies overhead and in space because you don`t have the city lights to interfere with any other light in the sky, so yes, what I was looking at back then was more than likely a rouge comet flying by, hopefully.
NASA is now chasing comets by planning to land their Rosetta spacecraft on one later this year. NASA`s Rosetta spacecraft just came out of a long hibernation of 957 days. The spacecraft is composed of an orbiter and lander and is planning on chasing down one of the well-known comets by the name of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (sounds very Russian) and landing on the nucleus of this comet by August of this year. While hitching a ride on this comet, Rosetta will be observing the comet by taking images and studying it while sending back data to NASA.
Rosetta will also be studying the comet from the inside out by drilling into it to study the make-up of the composition of the comet and studying the temperature changes as the comet is subjected to the increasing intensity of the sun`s radiation. The data collected will help scientists learn more about the history and evolution of our solar system and how comets may have had an impact on seeding Earth with water and perhaps maybe even take the study a step further and learn more about the evolution of life.
Claudia Alexander who is Rosetta`s project scientist at NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California commented on this by stating, "We are happy to be seeing some real zeroes and ones coming down from our instruments, and cannot wait to figure out what they are telling us. Never before has a spacecraft pulled up and parked next to a comet. That is what Rosetta will do, and we are delighted to play a part in such a historic mission of exploration."
Rosetta is currently in route to its objective, the comet and is currently about 300,000 miles away and is scheduled to be at the comet in August which is also when the instruments aboard Rosetta will begin to map the comet`s surface.
One of the main instruments aboard Rosetta known as MIRO is designed to provide the data on how gas and dust leave the surface of the nucleus to form the coma and tail that gives comets their intrinsic beauty. Studying the surface temperature and evolution of the coma and tail provides information on how the comet evolves as it approaches and leaves the vicinity of the sun.
Alice will analyze gases in the comet`s coma, which is the bright envelope of gas around the nucleus of the comet developed as a comet approaches the sun. Alice also will measure the rate at which the comet produces water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. These measurements will provide valuable information about the surface composition of the nucleus. (http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov)
The instrument also will measure the amount of argon present, an important clue about the temperature of the solar system at the time the comet`s nucleus originally formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. (http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov)
So, basically NASA is going to be picking apart the comet piece by piece and studying every aspect and make-up of the comet form the nucleus to the tail. This will give us a better idea of how the beauty and mystery of comets have come to be over the centuries.
So, the next time you are out and about somewhere in God`s country or sitting in your backyard on a clear and staring evening and something catches the corner of your eyes and you look up and see a mysterious ball of glowing light streaming across the horizon, it`s more than likely going to be a comet and not a buggy full of those little green men we have all seen over the years in shows about the unknown of space and the nostalgia of science fiction entertainment.
NASA Instruments Begin Science on European Spacecraft Set to Land on Comet (http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov) Retrieved 2014.
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