European spacecraft Rosetta became the first ever to catch up with a comet on Wednesday, a landmark stage in a decade-long space mission that scientists hope will help unlock some of the secrets of the solar system, Reuters reported.
Rosetta, launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, will accompany comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on its trip around the sun and land a probe on it later this year in an unprecedented maneuver.
Scientists are on a tight schedule to learn enough about the comet using data from Rosetta to safely land the spacecraft’s probe on it in November.
“We know what the comet’s shape is. But we haven’t really measured its gravity, we don’t know yet where the center of mass is,” Rosetta flight director Andrea Accomazzo told Reuters.
As it neared 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko this year, Rosetta took pictures revealing that it is not shaped, as had been assumed, like a rugby ball, but rather comprises two segments connected by a neck, giving it an asymmetrical shape that has been likened to a duck.
It has taken Rosetta 10 years, five months and four days to reach the comet, a roughly 3-by-5 km rock discovered in 1969. On its way, the spacecraft circled the sun on a widening spiral course, swinging past Earth and Mars to pick up speed and adjust its trajectory.
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