Rosetta Space Probe to Land on Comet, Use Indium to Analyze Composition

After a ten-year journey and a long, deep sleep the Rosetta space probe was woken up on 20 January. The vehicle now starts the last leg of its journey which will lead it to the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. The Philae lander is to descend to the comet’s surface in November.

The climax of the mission: In November of this year the Philae lander, equipped with nine further experiments, will touch down on the surface of the comet – a first in the history of space travel.

The plan is for Rosetta to investigate this cometary material in more detail than ever before. “The space probe is a kind of laboratory that is operated on-site at the comet,” says Max Planck Researcher Martin Hilchenbach, Head of the COSIMA team. COSIMA is one of the instruments whose main task is to draw out some of the secrets of the cometary dust.

In the microscopic, cauliflower-shaped pores of carriers only a few millimetres in size, the cosmic dust catcher collects individual particles, which are initially localised under a microscope and then bombarded with indium ions. The ions, which are thus released from the surface of the dust particles, can then be analysed further. “In this way, we can identify not only individual elements, but also organic molecules in particular,” says Hilchenbach.

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