It may have experienced some setbacks after a 10-year journey through space, but the Rosetta spacecraft represents “a history-making achievement,” opines the New York Times editorial board. The European Space Agency mission succeeded in orbiting around a comet near Jupiter and beaming back useful data back to Earth.
The comet – known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – is about three miles in diameter and is composed of ice, dust and rocks. Scientists are interested in studying its composition to figure out the primordial origins of the solar system.
Rosetta will remain around the comet for at least a year and provide “the most sustained research ever conducted” on this type of space object, the NYT writes, adding “previous probes have landed on various planets, moons and asteroids.”
The technical problems did plague Rosetta during its flight, but the on-board instruments collected and sent back to Earth over 57 hours of data from a probe that successfully landed on the comet – before the batteries shut down. Among other findings, scientists have determined “the comet is not as soft as they expected but has a hard surface below a layer of dust.”
Rosetta itself still functions and the probe on the comet “may revive as the comet gets closer to the sun,” providing even more unprecedented data. Findings are expected to be shared by scientists at a conference next month.