This is what an artist thinks the Rosetta lander will look like on the comet's surface.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of ESA
Part of the Rosetta spacecraft is a lander
that will touch down on the
surface of the comet. Since the comet is much
smaller than a planet or even a
moon, the gravity on the surface is
very weak. The engineers who designed the Rosetta lander had to make sure it
doesn't bounce (and maybe tip
over!) when it lands. The lander will be moving very slowly, about one
meter/second (two miles/hour), when it touches down. It will shoot
harpoons into the icy surface of the comet when it lands. Cables from the
harpoons will help hold the lander down on the surface.
The Rosetta mission was supposed to study a comet named Wirtanen.
There were some problems with the rocket that Rosetta will be launched on,
so Rosetta's launch had to be delayed.
Because of the delay, the mission will now study a different comet. Rosetta
will study Comet
Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The lander will touch down on the nucleus of
Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014. The new comet is much bigger than the
old one, so it has more gravity. That means the Rosetta lander will be going
faster when it lands. Engineers had to make some changes to the legs of the
lander to make sure it has a soft landing on the surface of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Instruments on the lander will measure the types of chemicals found on the
surface. The lander also has small drills that will dig into the
comet. Samples dug up by the drills will help us find out what is
"underground" on a comet. The lander also has cameras that will take
pictures from the surface.
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