How to catch a comet: First, set your alarm clock to wake up after a two and a half year nap, then reboot your computer and check your odometer. You are now 500 million miles from where you started 10 years ago.
Rosetta is the Europeans Space Agency’s incredibly daring mission to catch up to comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko after 10 years of hurtling through space to rendezvous with a comet speeding through space at 24,600 mph. Scientists put Rosetta into a planned hibernation 957 days ago to save resources so the spacecraft-probe would have enough power to complete its mission, leaving just a computer and a few heaters to keep it warm.
For the past two and a half years, Rosetta @ESA_Rosetta has been auto-tweeting “still sleeping” for its 5,000 followers.
ESA’s Mission Control will wake Rosetta Monday at 4 a.m. ET with a very special wake-up song to get on with its mission. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is working with ESA on this historic mission, helping to track Rosetta and transmit its images and data back to Earth.
JPL scientist Claudia Alexander explained to ABC News how the wake up will work Monday morning: “When Rosetta wakes up, it will take a look around, we will be recommissioning the spacecraft, which is like rebooting your computer. It takes a while to spin and come up to speed again, weeks actually, while we are double-checking each instrument.”
Rosetta launched March 4, 2004, using the gravitational pull of Earth and Mars as a slingshot to get into the proper comet-chasing orbit. When it gets close in June, it will prepare to launch a probe named Philae to land on the comet, where it will drill into the icy surface and send back unprecedented data and photos.
Rosetta will release the impact probe Philae July 3 but we won’t know until July 4when NASA’s JPL will confirm impact and send back the first images from the probe if it is successful.
ESA has been soliciting wake-up calls from the public and will select one to wake up its intrepid explorer.
This is the first time any space-faring nation will land on a comet, and Alexander is excited about what we will learn. “To hang out in the neighborhood of a comet as it orbits will change what we know about comets,” she said.
ESA will broadcast these events live from its Mission Control in Darmstadt, Germany.
Update: The European Space Agency received a signal from Rosetta, confirming that the satellite is operational. The signal was received at 1:18 p.m. ET.