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Rosetta Spacecraft Sends Back Stunning Close-Up Photos Of A Comet

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RosettaYou don’t hear the phrase “scientific Disneyland” all that often, at least not in my line of work, but that is how one observer described the new close-up photos of a comet that just arrived courtesy of Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft.

Rosetta, launched in 2004, recently arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is a mouthful—I bet his friends just call him 67P—and almost immediately started sending back incredible pictures. This is a meeting that was more than a decade in the making. Taken at a distance f roughly 81 miles away, the photos show off what scientists are calling the “neck,” “head,” “body,” and “head of the dirty snowball” of the deep space projectile, all in incredible detail.

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ESA’s Comet-Chasing Spacecraft Rosetta Scheduled To Wake Up Today

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Is 31 months enough sleep for a spacecraft? Or might it be too much?

The Chinese Yutu rover recently woke up from a two-week power-conserving sleep, but ESA’s Rosetta has been snoozing for a lot longer. If you’re a big geek like me, you’ll be checking the ESA’s livestream and Twitter feed throughout the course of the day to check on Rosetta’s status. There’s also a live blog on The Guardian’s website. It was supposed to rise and shine at 10:00 a.m. GMT, but we won’t have official word about whether that happened as scheduled until later this afternoon.

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ESA’s Rosetta Probe Will Wake Up And Head For A Comet Next Month

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rosettaEarlier this month, NASA ended the short retirement of the asteroid hunter NEOWISE, putting it back on the prowl. Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) will soon see one of their own long-quiet spacecraft coming back to life, as the Rosetta Lander will soon wake up from its deep slumber to bring its 10-year mission to its long-awaited next step: performing the first ever soft landing on a comet. The next time someone tells me I’m taking too long to do something, I’m going to refer them to the Rosetta before getting back to my ice cream mountain climbing.

Rosetta launched back in March 2004, on a mission to reach and study in detail the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or Churyumov-Gerasimenko for short. It performed a Mars flyby back in 2007 and a flyby of the asteroids 2867 Šteins and 21 Lutetia in 2008 and 2010, respectively, sending back images of both. It went into hibernation mode in 2011 and will stay that way until January 20, 2014, when it will set a direct course for the comet, which it is expected to reach at some point in August. It will then float around in a mapping orbit for the next few months. We all know there’s nothing more exciting than a mapping orbit, right?