NASA is participating in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, whose goal is to observe one comet space-bound icy dirt ball from up close — for months on end.
The spacecraft, festooned with 25 instruments between its lander and orbiter (including three from NASA), is programmed to “wake up” from hibernation on Jan. 20.
After a check-out period, it will monitor comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it makes its nosedive into, and then climb out of, the inner solar system.
The observation will span over 16 months, during which old 67P is expected to transform from a small, frozen world into a roiling mass of ice and dust, complete with surface eruptions, mini-earthquakes, basketball-sized, fluffy ice particles and spewing jets of carbon dioxide and cyanide.
(Text and image credit: ESA/NASA)