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Rosetta gets stoned

9 Oct

Last week saw a dramatic end to one of the most influential space missions in recent decades. At 11:19am GMT on September 30th the Rosetta spacecraft crash landed on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to the cheers and jeers of scientists and engineers from the European Space Agency (ESA) and German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Back in early March 2004 spacecraft Rosetta, and assistant lander Philae, launched from the Guiana Space Centre in South America with a mission to map the surface and composition of Comet 67P.


After over ten years of transit, Rosetta finally rendezvoused with the comet in August 2014 having passed a number of asteroids and the planet Mars. Throughout the 720 million kilometre journey the spacecraft’s array of instruments were cataloguing data as well as gathering a library of 116,000 images.

Probe lander Philae created history when it detached from its carrier on November 12th 2014 and touched down after bouncing twice on the comet’s surface. Once located relatively unscathed at the bottom of a crater wall, Philae could begin to send vital data back to Earth via Rosetta. The probe pieced together the molecular structures of the comet’s atmosphere and soil for a further three days until its battery was depleted.

Rosetta continued its work after the loss of Philae and the spacecraft was able to relay important evidence for another 23 months. Evidence such as the signature of water vapour, making up some of the comet’s structure, was found to be vastly different to that on Earth. Bringing scientists to the conclusion that the globe’s oceans were not delivered via these types of objects.

After 12 years and 7 billion kilometres travelled it was time for Rosetta’s final farewell. Last Friday (September 30th) ground crew at DLR’s facility in Darmstadt, Germany deliberately drove the vehicle in to the comet it had been so closely monitoring.  Emotions were running high as the team awaited imagery and information of the declination.


Image courtesy of

Even now that ESA and DLR scientists have called an end to Rosetta’s career, the mission directors are saying there is so much more to come.

“We have only scratched the surface of the science, there is decades worth of data here.”
– Matt Taylor, Rosetta Project Scientist

A selection of spectacular images captured by Rosetta can be found on the ESA website.


[COSMIC BODIES] – Lost Worlds

20 Oct

It is easy to lose something small, it might slip down the back of the sofa, or you might drop it on a night out but surely it is a lot harder to lose something the size of a planet?

Ok, well no one has lost anything quite this big, because well frankly it never belonged to anyone. I am, however, referring to rouge planets and their stars. These are huge wandering worlds slowly meandering across the universe perhaps looking for a parent star to take them into their protective care.

There is one particular lost world, which was only discovered in the winter of last year that has everyone in the planetary scientific community mystified.

This bizarre place does not have a name of yet but is known by its scientific designation: CFBDSIR 2149-0403. For the purpose of this article I would like to nickname it ‘Columbus’

‘Columbus’ lies about 100 light-years from us here on Earth and is about the size of 4-7 Jupiter’s. We judge exosolar planets on their comparable size to our biggest heavenly neighbour because, well, we have no comprehension on just how massive these spheres are. Temperatures on ‘Columbus’ get as hot as Mercury, reaching at least 700 Kelvin or around 425 Degrees Celsius.

It is highly likely that ‘Columbus’ was created in a gas cloud similar to the one that formed our solar system; it would have originally had a parent star to orbit around just as we do the Sun. Then after a few millennia the Planet would have been ejected of its orbit by a huge force, most probably another planet or even star.

Now this lonely domain is scheduled to spend the rest of its existence slowly rambling throughout the cosmos. Maybe ‘Columbus’ will get lucky and full into the orbit of a star big enough to hold its mass or maybe this planet’s fate lies in eventual vaporisation and destruction.

Scientists will continue to watch as ‘Columbus’ embarks on the next leg of its exploratory journey. Whilst it does they will also keep their eyes peeled for any other ambling orbs.

Super-Human Space Gracers

18 Oct

More than 8 Million people tuned into YouTube this week to watch daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s spectacular fall to Earth from an estimated height of around 39km (24 Miles). It was truly a wondrous feat and extremely exciting to watch online as preparations and last minute checks were made while he ascended to the target altitude. Felix will go down in the record books as holding the highest skydive ever completed, and will be remembered for a long time by those that witnessed it. Achievements like this has always driven man to the edges of courage and endurance as Felix is a member in a long list of men to face adversity head on and gain worldwide respect. Here is a run down of SOME of the gutsiest men to have dared take their feet from the ground.

As Felix was preparing for his jump there is no doubt that he took both inspiration and advice from a similar jump that took place 50 years ago. In August 1960, Joe Kittenger, a command pilot with the US Air Force, jumped from a height of 31km, (19 Miles) just short of Felix’s daring leap. During his descent a malfunction in Joe’s right hand glove caused his hand to swell to more than twice its size but the pioneer carried out the exercise unheeded by the pain. Kittenger was actually directly involved with Felix’s ‘Red Bull Stratos’ project in which he was the man seen guiding and talking with him before and during his flight. Having somebody with you that has experienced similar sensations much have been invaluable to Felix. What about those true pioneers risking their lives so that we humans can understand our surroundings?

One man that pushed himself to such extremes was Russian cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov. During the late 1980s and early 1990’s Valeri spent a combined time in space of 22 months. Polyakov, a Dr of medicine spent his time orbiting the planet testing drugs and equipment for use on Earth and for future use in space missions. Valeri’s biggest and most commendable achievement was when he returned from the space station Mir after 437 days above Earth. No human before or since has collected such an astonishing record of time in space. Valeri pushed his mind as well as his body, not necessarily for the purpose of endurance, but that information will prove invaluable in missions to come.

The time in space that Valeri experience would have felt somewhat of a luxury to previous pioneers in space exploration. Everybody is familiar with the members of the Apollo 11 crew, the first men on the moon, and no one more famous so than the late, great Neil Armstrong. Neil as well as Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were the first humans to set foot on another world when they touched down on the lunar surface in 1969. Countless years of practice and preparation still could not have compared to the experiences those men felt as they strolled the dusty Moon. Neil, Buzz and Michael, as well as the technicians at NASA, set a marker down for human exploration that will take some beating. Neil Armstrong’s death in August of this year upset the world as human’s lost a courageous and outstanding member of their race. The bravery that these men shared is rare but thankfully will continue on like it has, regardless of the dangers.

These men all share something in common in which they have all ignored the severe dangers involved with exiting our protective shield, we call the atmosphere, and seen the Earth like most of us will never witness. No catalog like this would be complete, however, without one of the most inspirational and commendable humans ever to grace this planet. Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut born in a town called Gzhatsk in 1934. After some years in the Soviet Air Force Gagarin was selected along with other candidates into the Soviet space program. He excelled and was eventually chosen to be Russia’s first cosmonaut. After months of training Yuri Gagarin finally blasted his way into human history when on the 12th April 1961 he became the first human in space as well as the first to orbit the Earth. Nothing could have prepared him for what was going to happen. There was no space flight manual or Soviet space program protocol to go by, Yuri was on his own.  After just under an hour and a half Gagarin returned to Earth’s surface to the applause and admiration of his colleagues not to mention that of future generations to come. The audacity that this man showed in the face of a completely unknown experience speaks volumes for that of what humans can achieve. Bravery on an unprecedented level that should never be forgotten. One way Russia made sure that his incredible feat was cemented in history was by changing the name of his boyhood town from Gzhatsk, to ‘Gagarin’ in 1968 after his tragic death.

Similarities in each of these men can be difficult to find as each was under different eras in space flight and exploration because one man’s experiences outweighs another. However, all should share the purest of admiration and respect of their fellow man as if it was not for these people, super humans if you will, our species will be forever pinned to the surface of this Earth.

VENUS EXPRESS Finds Ozone on Earths Twin

11 Oct

A satellite orbiting Venus has found that the planet has an Ozone layer similar to that of Earth’s. Useless to a planet as hot and dead as tortured Venus you might think… but what does this mean for Earths ‘twin’ planet and Earth it self?

Venus is a world quite similar to that of our own except the features that really matter for that of life to exist are so different. Venus is known as Earths ‘twin’ mainly because their size is almost identical and due to the fact it has an atmosphere high above its surface full of the common gases we depend on.

Venus orbits the sun 67 million miles away, which is over 25 million miles away from Earth. Being that close to our host star keeps temperatures soaring to 464 degrees Celsius, the hottest of any of the other seven planets.

The planet stays this hot due to the thick atmosphere layer that sits high above its surface trapping 80% of the sunlight that strikes it warming the gases inside. Venus’ heavy cloud coating is 96% carbon dioxide, which consists of three distinctive layers of Sulphuric Acid decreasing in density as you reach the boiling surface. With such a harmful array of gases how is it possible for the one we rely on to be formed?

An Ozone layer is a smaller, more delicate lining, to that of atmosphere, which covers planetary systems that produce significant levels of oxygen. Ozone is the name given to a molecule of three oxygen atoms (O3) that combine when sunlight does penetrate the concentrated poisonous atmosphere. The atoms are thrown together when the winds on Venus thrash continually around the dead body.

These ‘Ozone’ layers have only previously been detected on the Earth and its other next door neighbor Mars. On Earth this layer absorbs much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet waves, which protect us from radiation along with the magnetic field and atmosphere. What is also believed is that the suns high level of solar rays enabled the creation of life supportive of oxygen.

This discovery of ozone by the Venus Express orbiter, and the previous acknowledgement of carbon dioxide and oxygen within the planets atmosphere, leads scientists to believe that finding other worlds that tick these biological boxes will aid the slimming down process when looking for both microbial and complex life.