School of Mathematics and Physics


Rosetta jets

The comet revealed: Rosetta and Philae at Comet 67P


QUB Astronomers are part of the team that presenting our new-found knowledge about comets at the Royal Society in London this summer.

The comet revealed: Rosetta and Philae at Comet 67P

Summer Science Exhibition 2016 | Monday 4 July - Sunday 10 July | London

QUB Astronomers are part of the team presenting our new-found knowledge about comets at the Royal Society this summer. Comets are ancient visitors from the depths of space that formed when our Solar System was very young. The European Rosetta space mission is exploring Comet 67P in exquisite detail, teaching us about the conditions that existed when Earth and the other planets formed. The exhibit presents the ground-breaking results from the mission, and share how the instruments aboard the Rosetta orbiter and Philae lander have enabled leaps in our understanding.

Rosetta has revealed Comet 67P to be a bizarre chunk of dusty ice, with a fascinating landscape of towering cliffs and smooth plains, from which jets of gas and dust erupt into space. The comet is a natural laboratory for a wealth of chemical and physical processes, detected by the orbiter and lander. By combining this data with images and spectra observed from Earth, we are glimpsing the Solar System's early history.

Dr. Pedro Lacerda and Prof. Alan Fitzsimmons from the QUB Astrophysics Research Centre have been working alongside the ESA Rosetta team for more than 2 years, and both are explaining their findings to visitors and the general public in London this week.

Dr. Lacerda has been working with colleagues for the past two years looking at the findings from Rosetta and how they change our understanding of how comets form and evolve. In particular, he has been looking at what the measured density and structure of the comet tell us about their formation environment 4.6 billion years ago. Recently he has also been studying how small particles of comet dust are expelled from the comet when it is near the Sun.

In turn, Prof. Fitzsimmons has been observing the dust particles and gas molecules expelled from the comet using a variety of telescope on Earth, including the ESO Very Large Telescope in Chile. While the Rosetta spacecraft mostly remains within 200km of the comet nucleus, he has tracked the dust particles expelled from the comet to over 10 million km away in its orbit.

The exhibtion has been put together by a consortium of institutes and partners: University College London, Queen’s University Belfast, The Open University, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, University of Kent, University of Oxford, University of Reading, European Space Agency, Vicon, and SEPnet.

Further details including a video of the story behind the exhibition can be found at this link.

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