Space news strikes again at the end of the week as a comet hosting the little robot known as Philae went right past the sun and started its long, hot journey. The comet is known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and scientists believe it has some part to play in discovering how life came to be on Earth.
The comet came as close as 186 million kilometers to our solar system on Thursday. Sylvan Lodiot, the engineer who is charged with the Rosetta spacecraft, declared that the ship took photos of 67P and it seemed to be “very active”. This was because its surface was being constantly bombarded with solar heat and winds.
Lodiot also declared that there is gas and dust everywhere around the comet and that Rosetta is perfect condition to follow the comet’s 6.5 year journey around the sun. The sun’s “contact” with the comet has caused it to undergo a vast majority of chemical reactions, releasing hundreds of kilograms of gas per second and tons of dust too.
Rosetta needed to reposition itself in a safer place, 330 kilometers away from the comet, so that its remains would not affect its performance and the star tracker navigation system would remain in good shape.
What is interesting for scientists is the actual composition of the comet. It is made of minerals and ice, but what captures everyone’s attention is the organic “material”. The comet contains organic molecules which are considered to be similar to the harbingers that started life in the first place.
Scientists are curious whether the comet will shed a large layer of its crust or not. This will only be observable when the comet gets as close as it can to the sun in its journey. If the comet will undergo this process, it will practically throw life particles at us, the particles from 4.6 billion years ago.
While scientists are delighted about this astonishing event, not the same can be said for the little Philae robot, who seems to be stuck on the comet since last November. Scientists are not sure if the little guy is still collecting data because communications could not be re-established until now.
Either way, the situation implies that we have to play the waiting game and see how much it is going to take for the comet to reach its closest approach to the sun. Only when it will reach this “critical point” will we be able to see if the scientist’s theory was correct or not.
Photo Credits wanderingspace.net