Get Ready for Rosetta’s Rendezvous with a Comet!

Rosetta is just hours away from its first rendezvous with Comet 67P/C-G, 404.19 million km away. (Source: ESA's Where Is Rosetta visualization)
Rosetta is now just hours away from its first rendezvous with Comet 67P/C-G, 404.19 million km from Earth. (Source: ESA’s Where Is Rosetta visualization)

How exciting – it’s almost time! After over ten years of travel ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta is mere hours away from its first rendezvous with the 4-km-wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko! We’ve all been seeing better and better images of the comet since it first became visible to Rosetta a few months back, with the past couple of weeks bringing us some exceptionally intriguing views as the spacecraft closes the gap, but on Wednesday, August 6 Rosetta will have officially arrived — and I can only imagine what we’ll be seeing then!

Ultimately Rosetta will enter orbit around Comet 67P/C-G. But first it needs to perform some maneuvers to circle it around the comet, which doesn’t have a very strong gravitational pull. The first of these course corrections will take place on the morning of August 6, and so this is being tagged as “arrival day” at the comet.

Watch the video below to see how Rosetta will approach 67P/C-G at 100 km and maneuver around it in triangular passes — with a thruster burn at each apex — until ultimately establishing a close orbit.

NAVCAM image of 67P/C-G from August 4, 2014 (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)
NAVCAM image of 67P/C-G from August 4, 2014 (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

According to the Rosetta blog, “Rosetta’s goal is to match the pace of the comet – currently some 55,000 km/hour (34,175 mph) – and travel alongside it with a relative velocity of just 1 m/s between them, roughly equivalent to walking pace.”

If all goes as planned — and so far the mission has been a remarkable success in every way — Rosetta will become the first spacecraft ever to orbit a comet and witness firsthand the changes it goes through as it makes its journey around the Sun and back out into the depths of the Solar System. And in November, the Philae lander will be the first robot to soft-land on a comet as well! But first, Rosetta needs to get there — and that’s happening tomorrow.

The live coverage begins at 08:00 GMT (4:oo a.m. EDT) on the ESA portal here.

If we’ve learned anything from our few previous close encounters, it’s that comets tend to be unique objects, each with its own distinct behavior and personality. I’m sure 67P/C-G is no different and will have lots of surprises in store for Rosetta and Philae!

Want to find out where Rosetta and 67P/C-G are right now? Click here.

UPDATE 8/6: Rosetta has arrived at 67P and new hi-res OSIRIS images are in! Click here.