Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rosetta Mars Fly-By

What's this?

No, that's is not a still from a new Science Fiction movie, but a photo taken from aboard the ESA space probe Rosetta, when approaching Mars to fly-by at an altitude of 250 km with a velocity of 36 000 km/hour.

Rosetta is on a long and intricate journey to a comet, called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is supposed to join the comet close to its aphel, beyond the orbit of Jupiter, and travel along with it on its elliptic path towards and around the Sun. The idea is to study in detail the stuff the comet is made of, and to follow the changes in the comet as it approaches the Sun. There is even a small lander which is planned to descend on the surface of the comet!

It seems to be not so easy to bring the space probe in the orbit of the comet - there are three Earth fly-bys and one Mars fly-by necessary to meet the comet in 2014. The successful Mars fly-by was in the night from Saturday to Sunday - it made it in the news on German TV on Sunday! That's in part because ESA mission control is located in Darmstadt, Germany, a town just 20 miles south of Frankfurt.

The ESA site has more pictures taken during the fly-by, including this photo of clouds high in the atmosphere of Mars - they all look quite spectacular!

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