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Home / Science / Get to know the comet interceptor. It will wait patiently in space for a comet and then pounce on it

Get to know the comet interceptor. It will wait patiently in space for a comet and then pounce on it



ESA has announced a new mission to explore a comet. At the Comet Interceptor mission, a spaceship waits in space until an untouched comet approaches the inner solar system. Then it will make a bee line for it and do a pioneering science.

The Comet Interceptor is unique among space missions. The exact destination is unknown and it is designed, built and launched before the target is identified.

The Interceptor will be a rather small spacecraft with a takeoff weight of less than 1000 kg. He is started at the start of another medium-sized mission as a kind of fellowship spaceship. With this boost, he reaches his standby point: LaGrange 2. L2 is about 1

.5 million kilometers from Earth.

<img src = "https://www.universetoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/LaGrangian-points.png" alt = "Comet Interceptor launches a rocket to its L2 waiting point. Photo credits: By Xander89 – File: Lagrange_points2.svg, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36697081[19659005lightboxesCometInterceptorisrestartedfromamissileatitsWarningpointL2Picture:FromXander89File:Lagrange_points2svgCCBY30https://commonswikimediaorg/w/indexphp?curid=36697081[19659006lightboxesOnceCometInterceptoristonL2andwaitedtobeingAfterEESAthetargetisaninfinitesetofinterstellarobjectsthatfliesthroughoursystembutdoesnotofferanycomet

Generally speaking, there are two types of comets that enter the inner solar system and orbit the Sun Short-period comets are bodies that have passed several times near our Sun. Usually less than 200 years, and with everyone Passage near the sun will change significantly from its original state.

Well-known comets like Halley's comet fall into this category with a period of 76 years. Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the ESA Spacecraft Rosetta, has an even shorter period: it visits every 6.5 years.

 This view of Halley's cometary nucleus was captured by the Halley Multicolour Camera (HMC) aboard the spacecraft Giotto when it passed 600 km from the cometary nucleus on March 13, 1986. Credit: ESA
The best-known comet is Halley's comet, a short-lived comet that pops up every 76 years. This view of Halley's comet nucleus was captured by the Halley Multicolour Camera (HMC) aboard the spacecraft Giotto when she passed 600 km from the cometary nucleus on March 13, 1986. Credit: ESA

However, these short-period comets are not the target of the comet interceptor. It's the hunt for a comet that visits the sun for the first time. Once selected, the comet will be relatively unchanged since its formation and the rest of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.

" Untouched or dynamically new comets are utterly unknown and need to pin down convincing spacecraft exploration targets up close to better understand the diversity and evolution of comets," said Günther Hasinger, ESA's director of science. Giotto and Rosetta's huge scientific achievements – our cometary missions so far – are unrivaled. Now is the time to build on their successes and visit a flawless comet or prepare for the next one. & # 39; Oumuamua

-like interstellar object. "

The comet eventually visited by the Interceptor will probably come from the Oort Cloud. The Oort Cloud is the farthest region in our solar system and it's like a gigantic spherical cloud of objects that surrounds our entire system. The Oort Cloud is largely theoretical at the time, as no one has ever directly observed it. But it is thought to be the source of comets like Comet C / 2013 A1 Siding Spring, which visited the Inner Solar System in 2014 and will not return for another breathtaking 740,000 years.

2014 Comet Siding- Spring came so close to Mars that the Mars orbiters were evicted to remove possible harmful debris. Picture credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech – http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/figures/PIA18611_fig1.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36018137 [19659009] Once the ESA scientists have identified and selected a long-running comet, Space Interceptor will launch its propulsion system and set off for a rendezvous. The Interceptor actually consists of three spacecraft in one, and each of the three is loaded with complementary scientific instruments. When the spaceship approaches the comet, it is divided into three parts.

Each of the three will offer different perspectives of the cometary nucleus and its gas, dust and plasma environment. By measuring the comet from three points, scientists get the detailed 3D information they need to understand the dynamics of an untouched comet as it is exposed to the ever-changing solar wind environment.

But the target of the comet interceptor may not be a comet at all. The spaceship may be aimed at another interstellar object similar to Oumuamua. Oumuamua visited our solar system in 2017 and it is the only interstellar object we have discovered through our system. There was a lot of funny speculation (and some pretty wild speculation) about the nature of the object, but in any case we'll never see it again. However, scientists say that interstellar objects are not rare and that there is likely to be an object moving through our solar system at some point in time.

Artistic representation of the first interstellar asteroid / comet "Oumuamua". This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 from the Pan-STARRS 1 Telescope in Hawaii. Picture credits: ESO / M. Kornmesser

Regardless of whether the comet interceptor is to investigate a comet or another object, this is a first for science. In fact, the overall ability to perform this mission is fairly new.

We now have instruments that can scan the sky deeper and more effectively than ever before. These instruments, such as Pan-STARRS and the upcoming Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, automatically scan the sky and alert us early that objects are approaching. This gives scientists the advantage of being very selective in their approach and choosing carefully and patiently.

The Comet Interceptor is a mission of the "F-Class" or the fast class. This title refers to how long it took to select the project from among the 23 pitches it has received from companies since it was announced last July. It also refers to how fast the craft can be developed. Only eight years elapse between the selection of the mission and the start. That's pretty fast for a complex space mission.

An artistic representation of the Planet Hunt spacecraft ARIEL of the ESA. The comet interceptor will be launched in 2028 on the same rocket as ARIEL. Source: ESA / ARIEL consortium.

The comet interceptor will launch in 2028, probably in the same rocket as ESA's planetary hunt, ARIEL (Atmospheric Remote Sensing Infrared Spacecraft Exoplanet Large-survey), which is also destined for LaGrange Point 2. It will take about a month to reach L2. Then the wait begins and no one can say how long it will take for a desired destination to approach.

But once a target is selected and the comet interceptor reaches the comet or other interstellar object, the resulting science is worth the wait.

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