Space age history was made this week when the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft caught up with a speeding comet 250 million miles from Earth. Now, you can see how it got there.
The Slovakia-based company INOVE has created a computer simulation of Rosetta's path through the solar system that highlights key moments in the spacecraft's journey, as well as its current position and the upcoming steps of the mission.
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 8, 11:13 a.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of the company that made a computer simulation of the spacecraft Rosetta’s journey to a comet. It is INOVE, not INVOE.
Rosetta's route to the 2.5-mile wide comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was long and convoluted. Over the course of the last decade it went around the sun three times, picked up three gravity assists from the Earth, one from Mars, and went through the asteroid belt twice.
Along the way Rosetta has made a few observations of objects in space. In September 2008 it took a close look at the diamond-shaped asteroid Steins sending images of its 40 impact craters back to Earth. In July 2010 it swung by the asteroid Lutetia, sending back more than 400 images of the asteroid's northern hemisphere.
All these events are visible on the simulation created by the three-person team at INOVE. So are future key moments, such as when Rosetta is scheduled to send its Philae lander to the surface of the comet in November this year, and August 2015, when 67P will be closest to the sun, and likely at its most active.
But the best part of the simulation may simply be seeing Rosetta's crazy looping trajectory through space. It's just amazing that anyone could predict that all those swings around Earth and Mars could lead to the glorious moment Wednesday when Rosetta met up with 67P.
For those of you who are wondering how it was done, INOVE employee Michal Sadlon told the Los Angeles Times that the model uses precise positions of celestial objects according to NASA data. They've also made simulations of Comet ISON's journey to the sun, and comet Siding Spring's upcoming flyby of Mars.
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