Rosetta data discoveries to guide future comet missions

EU-funded researchers have gleaned important insights into the composition, topography and activity of a comet, helping scientists prepare for the next close encounter with these icy, dusty remnants from the formation of the solar system.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


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Published: 26 August 2019  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Innovation
International cooperation
Research policyHorizon 2020
SpaceSpace exploration  |  Space hardware  |  Teledetection
Countries involved in the project described in the article
France  |  Germany  |  Netherlands  |  Switzerland  |  United Kingdom
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Rosetta data discoveries to guide future comet missions

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© Yuriy Mazur #71824509 2019, source:stock.adobe.com

Updated on 26 August 2019

The EU-funded MIARD project studied data from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which made history in 2014 when it landed the Philae probe on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The mission resulted in remarkable discoveries, including detecting ancient icy water – substantially different to water on Earth – and identifying a pungent chemical composition of hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and formaldehyde gassing out from the comet’s porous structure, providing insights into the early days of the solar system.

By delving deeper into the reams of data generated during the mission, the MIARD team has produced detailed models of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s gas and dust dynamics, a study of gas flow through the comet’s porous near-surface layers, and 3D maps of the nucleus that divide the surface into 70 subregions, as well as more accurate information about the comet’s orbital motion and rotation.

‘We spent a lot of time being careful and improving the analysis of data from the Rosetta mission by combining data sets from several instruments. There is a tendency for people to publish quickly when missions arrive at a new target, but this can lead to conclusions that are superficial or even occasionally wrong, explains MIARD coordinator Nicolas Thomas, professor of experimental physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

‘One thing that was particularly amusing was that we found ESA’s knowledge of the spacecraft position – and therefore the comet’s position – was not accurate. We are now working with ESA to improve this situation and get the position better defined,’ he says.

Knowledge gained in MIARD, such as details about the tensile strength of the comet’s nucleus material and the effects of thermal fracturing on the evolution of its surface will help guide future space exploration missions, including a possible return voyage by ESA to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and visits to similar solar system bodies.

‘We saw very clearly the importance of understanding why comets are active, and we can now see what the next mission to a comet needs to do. For example, the link between ices and non-volatile material in the nucleus is a key question we should try to answer in the next 10 to 20 years,’ Thomas concludes.

Project details

  • Project acronym: MIARD
  • Participants: Switzerland (Coordinator), Germany, France, UK, Netherlands
  • Project N°: 686709
  • Total costs: € 1 659 064
  • EU contribution: € 984 437
  • Duration: March 2016 to August 2018

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