A hieroglyph to far – by Duncan Harley

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In a remarkable interview, Philae comments on the success of the Rosetta mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimrnko

We had arranged to meet in downtown Aberdeen in the March of 2004 but events moved fast and furious after fridge size robot Philae took off on a ten year mission atop the Rosetta spacecraft.

In the November of 2014 we finally met on the day after the landing. Although initially Philae was uncharacteristically upbeat about the mission, the tone changed at the mention of mission gain.

  • Congratulations on a successful mission. Folk on earth are dying to hear more about the sacrifice and endeavour which has led to this achievement. Tell me, in your own words, the story of the Rosetta mission from day one to the present day.
  • Yes, we took off ten years ago with the intention of answering some of the questions about comets. Rosetta is a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to catch the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko” (C-G). Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet and also the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it enters the inner solar system.
  • Folk on earth will be wondering about the mission’s backers. In particular, who funds the Rosetta Programme?
  • Yes, this daring international mission was spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA), with key support and instruments from NASA. NASA also contributed three of the orbiter’s instruments (ALICE, MIRO, and IES) and part of the electronics package for the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer – one of two detectors on the Swiss ROSINA instrument. NASA is also providing science investigators for selected non-U.S. instruments. In all, NASA is involved to a greater or lesser degree in Alice, MIRO, IES, OSIRIS, Radio Science, ROSINA, and VIRTIS experiments. NASA’s Deep Space Network provides support for ESA’s Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.
  • That’s confounding, thank you. Folk on earth will be keen to hear more about why the name Rosetta became the mission programme name.
  • Yes, the Rosetta spacecraft is named after the ancient Rosetta Stone that you can visit today in London’s British Museum. The Philae lander is named after the Philae Obelisk which, together with the Rosetta Stone, provides the key to our understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope that the Rosetta spacecraft will enable us to translate the even older language of comets, as expressed by their thermal signatures, into new knowledge about the origins of our solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth. Comets are probably as old as time, whatever that is.
  • Our listeners will probably already know that. Do you have any more astounding facts?
  • Yes it turns out that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is made of ice.
  • But surely folk on earth knew that already? How much did this mission cost?
  • Beep. Beep, Bee……ppppp……………pp……………………p…..

More about comets can be found for free at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet

At certain times of year, you are likely to see a great number of meteors in the night sky. These events are called meteor showers and they occur when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet as it orbits the Sun. These showers are given names based on the constellation present in the sky from which they appear to originate. For example, the Leonid Meteor Shower, or Leonids, appear to originate in the constellation Leo. It is important to understand that the meteoroids (and therefore the meteors) do not really originate from the constellations or any of the stars in the constellations, however. They just seem to come from that part of the sky because of the way the Earth encounters the particles moving in the path of the comet’s orbit. Associating the shower name with the region of the sky they seem to come from just helps astronomers know where to look!

In far off 1957 Perry Como had a take on it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t_PDU5RmBw

© Duncan Harley

About Grumpy Jack

Writer and photographer
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