Comet-chasing probe to be roused from sleep

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Posted January 17, 2014
A computer generated image shows Rosetta, the billion-dollar comet-chasing-spacecraft
A computer generated image shows Rosetta, the billion-dollar comet-chasing-spacecraft
One of the most ambitious missions in the history of space goes into high-risk mode on Monday when Europe rouses a comet-chasing probe from years of hibernation.

“The most important alarm clock in the Solar System” will end the scout Rosetta’s long slumber, gearing it for a historic rendezvous in deep space, the European Space Agency says.

Launched almost a decade ago, Rosetta is a billion-dollar bet to prise open the secrets of comets.

Clusters of ice and dust—which explains their nickname of “dirty snowballs”—comets are believed to be remnants from the very birth of our star system.

“Unlocking these time capsules, looking at the gas, the dust and particularly the ice they’re made of, provides great clues to the origin of our Solar System and, potentially, even of life,” said astrophysicist Mark McCaughrean.

“This time capsule has been locked for 4.6 billion years. It’s time to unlock the treasure chest.”

To team up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta was launched in 2004 on a trek of seven billion kilometres (4.3 billion miles) around the inner Solar System.

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