Spacecraft aiming to connect to comet has Colorado ties

BOULDER – A spacecraft, whose mission is to attach itself to a fast-moving comet, reached its destination in outer space on Wednesday.

Although the craft is part of a European Space mission, it also has ties to NASA and Colorado.

At the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, employees like Joel Parker have been keeping a close eye on the 'Rosetta' mission. Parker serves as a director at the Southwest Research Institute.

"At this very moment, Rosetta is 251 million miles from earth," Parker explained from his Boulder office.

For perspective, that's somewhere between Mars and Jupiter in the solar system, moving away from the sun.

Attached to the Rosetta spacecraft are two instruments built by folks like Parker at the Southwest Research Institute. One of the devices is called 'Alice'.

"Alice will measure the gas coming out of the comet and what it's made of," Parker said.

'Alice' is a spectrograph. A spectrograph is an interesting instrument used to separate incoming waves into a frequency spectrum, Parker told 9NEWS.

A mission like this has never been attempted before. For the last decade, 'Rosetta' has been on a galactic trip, traveling more than 34,000 miles an hour through the solar system in search of one particular comet.

"We finally decided on the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We call it 'C-G' for short because it's easier to say," Parker joked.

On Wednesday, Rosetta came within 62 miles of 'C-G' – a destination researchers have been aiming for over the last several years.

On November 11, 2014, Rosetta will deploy a lander called 'Philae' which will attach itself to the comet. Once it is attached, 'Philae' will study every inch of it.

At this point, researchers don't know much about comets. Parker referred to them as 'giant, dirty ice balls'. Scientists are hoping this mission will shed some light on the dark, far out corners of the universe.

"So far the mission has been wonderful," Parker said.

Once the lander attaches itself to the comet, the orbiter will continue to follow 'C-G' for about a year and a half.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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