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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

How to Tame Your Comet

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, August 11, 2014/Categories: photography, space science

In the animated film, How to Tame Your Dragon, the teenage Kiccup used a rope-like bola sling to snare a young Night Fury. Hiccup then tamed the dragon to save his Viking village. It was a fun movie about monsters, heroes, and was a big success.

In another bit of highly advanced "bola slinging", two space probes are positioning themselves around solar system objects in a display of technical wizardry. The  Rosetta spacecraft  has been maneuvered around the comet  Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the first time one of these moving targets has been approached, much less orbited. The detail of the comets surface in the first images are stunning.

After traveling for 10 years and a distance of more than 4 billion miles, the  European Space Agency's Rosetta  spacecraft has approached to within 50 miles of its target. In November, the Philae lander---named for the Nile island where the original Rosetta Stone was discovered---will be positioned to eject, will unfold its legs, and descend towards the surface, 1/2 mile below.

 
Rosetta Orbiting Comet (credit: ESA)              Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (credit: ESA)

Likewise, the Cassini space probe has moved into positions allowing close viewing of the long cracks and geysers erupting from Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. In one pass over the surface of the icy moon, Cassini flew through the plume of particles ejected from the geysers.

 
Enceladus "Tiger Stripes" (credit: JPL/NASA)     Enceladus Geysers (JPL/NASA)

You can watch Rosetta as it approaches the tumbling comet and be amazed at the math and physics required to make a technical achievement like this happen at all:



It is not known what sort of dragons may need taming on the comet or moon but dangers do exist. The comet is hurling towards the sun giving off gases with the icy moon constantly erupts with geysers extending hundreds of miles into space. Still, small matters considering all the cool explorations these amazing spacecraft have already accomplished. 

WHB

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