Never mind Comet ISON: If all goes well, in January the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe will "wake up" in preparation for a rendezvous with Comet 67-P, currently hanging out in the vicinity of Jupiter.
While astronomers both amateur and professional get ready for the possibly awe-inspiring arrival of Comet ISON in November, a team of European Space Agency (ESA) scientists are geeked about Comet 67-P and the probe they sent out in 2004 to meet it near Jupiter. That probe, Rosetta, has been “asleep” since 2011 in order to save energy, but it’s scheduled to “wake itself up” this January and begin preparations for a rendezvous. And that’s not all: The probe has a lander, Philae, that the team will deploy on the comet itself.
What’s the Big Idea?
The four-kilometer-wide Comet 67-P was first discovered by Russian scientists in 1969. Recent observations of its approximately six-year-long orbit show that its passes around the sun have been “relatively smooth,” which should help Rosetta catch up to it. Still, there are a lot of extra heart-in-mouth moments until then, not the least of which is the actual waking-up. ESA official Mark McCaughrean says, “[W]e do expect [the internal alarm clock] to go off. And when it does…we will receive a signal. We don’t know exactly when we’ll receive that signal. It will happen in a window.”