TAU and Swiss scientists to crash spacecraft into comet today

Rosetta mission has discovered 34 new molecules.

September 30, 2016 01:02
2 minute read.
THE ROSETTA spacecraft will be crashed into the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet by scientists from Tel A

THE ROSETTA spacecraft will be crashed into the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet by scientists from Tel Aviv University and the University of Switzerland in Bern.. (photo credit: TAU)


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The Rosetta spacecraft is scheduled to crash into a comet on Friday some 850 million kilometers from the sun, with Tel Aviv University scientists and their Swiss counterparts at the (very remote) controls.

The astrophysicists are interested in learning the composition of gases released by the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet as a result of the crash.

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Dr. Akiva Bar-Nun of the department of geosciencies at TAU is one of the mission planners and part of the research team, which is based at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

The Rosetta spacecraft, launched in 2004, is scheduled to crash on the comet after a two-year journey around the comet.

The project is said to be the most complicated ever to involve research into comets and the top project of the European Space Agency. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration also contributed a number of measurement devices.

During the last two years in which Rosetta has followed the comet, 1.7 million measurements have been made. Among the most important discoveries of the spacecraft the discovery of 34 previously-unknown molecules. Components of water on the water were found different from that of the water on Earth.

Along with nitrogen and oxygen, inert gases – such as argon, krypton and xenon – were also discovered.


Together they testify to the comet being formed at a low temperature below -240 degrees Celsius. The scientists discovered phosphorus on the comet, along with glycine, an amino acid found in proteins and a basic element in DNA connected to the appearance of life on Earth.

The comet was first observed on photographic plates in 1969 by Soviet astronomers Klim Ivanovych Churyumov and Svetlana Ivanovna Gerasimenko, after whom it was named.

Researchers from around the world are processing the measurements received so far, including those from the comet lab run by Bar-Nun and his colleagues at TAU, Their results include simulations of comet ice.

Bar-Nun is among the mission planners and researchers, as well as a member of the Bern group.

As the Rosetta was not planned for landing, project engineers expect it to crash on the comet’s surface, thus ending its working life. Observations near the expected crash site have already begun, and very-high-resolution pictures are continually being obtained. The team hopes to reach a resolution of a few meters so they can photograph craters on the surface that are expected to be created as a result of the crash and resulting release of gas and dust.

A large amount of data are planned to be published at the end of the mission.

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