Thursday, November 13, 2014

Comet Landing

Much to my family's dismay, I wait until the last minute to complete projects. Well, if I hadn't waited until the last minute to write this post, I would have missed out reporting on a fantastic event. 

Yesterday the European Space Agency’s Philae lander touched down on the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is the first soft landing on a comet that is moving more than 60,000 km per hour. They say it's like transferring an object from one speeding bullet to another.  Historic. Exciting.

Artist's concept of Philae's landing. Image credit: ESA
Anything connected to space intrigues me. I guess that’s why I write science fiction romance. Sputnik went into orbit when I was a kid and I well remember the Space Race with the Soviets. Back in the 1960s, I knew the names of all the astronauts. Every time there was a space launch, I’d be glued to the television. So learning about this ground-breaking event had me trolling the internet and avidly watching the Science Channel.

The Rosetta spacecraft that carried Philae has already had a long journey—ten years and over four billion miles before it caught up to the duck-shaped Comet 67P/C-G. As soon as Philae landed on the comet's head, it immediately drilled down to anchor the lander to the comet. Sure wouldn’t want it to bounce off. Also, immediately the instruments started working and Philae is sending back information about this icy space wanderer.

What do scientists expect to learn? Possibly about the beginning of the solar system.

Since comets are made up of water and dust, scientists theorize that a dry Earth was bombarded by thousands of comets, which left behind water. By analyzing the data from Philae, they hope to determine if that theory is correct. The lander will take pictures of the area around the landing zone. It will take the comet’s temperature on the surface and deep within. The instruments will examine the dust to tell where the comet came from. Analyzing the content inside the comet, they could tell us if it’s the same as the ingredients of Earth, and possibly where life comes from. Pretty good for a lander that’s about as big as a washing machine.

These are exciting times! We’ve had so many years of ho-hum events. I mean, how can you get excited about another trip to the space station with cargo or a change in crew? I’m sure it’s exciting and important for the astronauts. I know so much goes on behind the scenes in preparation for a real event. Philae’s landing yesterday was nearly thirty years in the making.

So what's next? Remember the movie Armageddon? Instead of sending up a team of oil & gas drillers, a project in the works plans to “capture” an asteroid and change its path. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, scheduled to launch in two years, plans to bring a piece of an asteroid home.

Scientists are only limited by their imaginations. We writers could help out with that, couldn’t we?

Diane Burton writes science fiction romance, romantic suspense, and mystery. Her most recent sfr novel is The Chameleon (book 2 in the Outer Rim series). Her latest novel is a mystery, The Case of the Bygone Brother. See Diane's website for more info:


Alyssa Alexander said...

I was just reading about this early this morning! Very fascinating...I never would have thought this was possible!

Then again, landing on Mars seemed impossible too. And, a hundred years ago, landing on the moon would have seemed impossible.

Diane Burton said...

It's fascinating what we couldn't imagine years ago is now possible.

M.J. Schiller, Romance Author said...

Wow! This kind of thing usually doesn't interest me much, but you, Diane, have me interested! I hope to hear more about this. Thank you for telling us about it!

M.J. Schiller, Romance Author said...

Wow! This kind of thing usually doesn't interest me much, but you, Diane, have me interested! I hope to hear more about this. Thank you for telling us about it!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, MJ.