Check Out The Comet Chaser

27 February 2005
Posted by Chris Smith.

Good news for all the budding astronomers out there - you've got a good chance of spotting the European Space Agency's comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft on the 4th of March, assuming that this bad weather clears up in time. Rosetta is on a mission to intercept the comet 67P/Churyomov-Gersimenko some time in the year 2014, but on the way it's flying three times past Earth and also swinging past Mars. The fly-bys are essential to get Rosetta up to speed with the comet, a bit like swinging a shot-put round your head before throwing it. Rosetta tracks through space using asteroids, and the spacecraft is doing this fly-by so scientists can calibrate its instruments using the moon as a dummy asteroid. You should be able to spot Rosetta using good binoculars or a telescope from today onwards, appearing between the constellations Leo and Sextans. It will be closest to earth on the 4th of March, heading from south east to south west across the sky, but sadly not visible with the naked eye. If you've got the kit, try and look out for the 32 metre-high solar panels or the high-gain antenna. For the best view you need to go to Mexico though - Rosetta will be only 1900 kilometres away from the earth, which is spitting distance in astronomical terms.

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