On March 2, 2004, Rosetta is launched from Kourou in French Guiana on its spectacular comet mission. The spacecraft consists of two parts: the Rosetta orbiter and an integrated lander named Philae.
On July 04, 2005 at 7:52 a.m., a copper projectile fired from the NASA Deep Impact spacecraft hits comet Tempel 1. Shortly afterwards, the OSIRIS camera system onboard of the Rosetta spacecraft measures a dramatic increase in brightness. Within half an hour, the comet was seven times brighter than before the impact and remained constant in its brightness.
During the night of February 24/25, 2007, the Rosetta spacecraft flew past Mars. It used the gravity attraction of the red planet to gain momentum for its further flight, and took these spectacular images of the red planet.
A space camera developed under the direction of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research discovered deep craters on the surface of asteroid Steins. On September 7, 2008, the Rosetta spacecraft flew by the asteroid at only 800 kilometres of distance.
On November 12, 2009, Rosetta passed Earth at a speed of 50,000 km/h. During this flyby, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research took spectacular pictures. "We used the wide-angle and telephoto camera for these shots, and we are enthusiastic about the unique quality," said project leader Holger Sierks.
The surface of the asteroid Lutetia is covered with craters. In some places, parallel grooves also occur. With a resolution of about 60 metres per pixel, the pictures enable an intriguing glance at Lutetia. "This is a completely new world that no one has seen before," says Max Planck researcher Holger Sierks, head of the OSIRIS team. The planetoid, whose longest axis measures about 126 kilometres, has an oval shape. In one of the larger craters, the images show evidence of a landslide.
Approximately 163 million kilometres still separate the Rosetta spacecraft from the comet Churjumov-Gerasimenko, which it will reach in 2014. Despite this considerable distance, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research succeeded in taking pictures of the remote target on June 8, 2011. The pictures were taken during the last test. Shortly after, Rosetta enters its nearly three-year-long hibernation phase. In order to save energy, all systems are shut down during the last part of the trip, which offers only little sunlight.
After ten years of travelling and a long, deep sleep, the Rosetta spacecraft is woken up on January 20, 2014. At night, the vehicle sent a signal to the ESA control centre in Darmstadt. This is the beginning of the last stage to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The Philae lander is supposed to descend on its surface in November.
Water evaporates from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, destination of the current ESA mission Rosetta. First measurements of the instrument MIRO on board of the spacecraft not only identified the gas, but also determined its amount. Although the comet is still in the icy depths of space, the amount of water released already reaches the equivalent of two small glasses of water per second. The MIRO team includes researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. MIRO’s Chirp Transform Spektrometer was developed at the institute. It tracks specific gases in the vicinity of the comet.
While Rosetta is slowly approaching its destination, the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko proves once again that it is full of surprises. It consists of two parts and appears to be significantly different from all comets that space probes have visited so far.
The images sent to earth by the scientific camera system OSIRIS are becoming more and more detailed. In the latest images, the comet shows clear signs of a coma – a surrounding dust envelope.