Rosetta: Decoding Comets

If you’ve been following science news lately (or happen to follow the European Space Agency on Twitter), you will be aware that at this very moment, a science laboratory that we sent up ten years ago is orbiting a comet, waiting patiently for the moment when it can land and do some sweet experiments for us. Needless to say, the Rosetta space probe constantly amazes me. It was sent on this epic journey to help us understand what comets are made of, and, because comets are really old, hopefully it can also tell us about how the Solar System was formed.

There’s a picture Rosetta sent to us that is, essentially, a space selfie taken by a robot on arrival at the coolest party it will ever attend. It might not look like much, but it definitely beats Ellen’s Oscars-selfie. I mean, wow. The photo is incredible. It blows my mind to think that ten years ago, some humans thought about sending something the size of a car on a journey of empty space to a destination they hardly knew anything about, launching and navigating it through six billion kilometres until finally, in August this year, it arrived at exactly the right time and casually just sent us back a pic. Your holiday snaps from Mykonos got nothing on this.

This is the same excitement that gets me watching a lunar eclipse (#BloodMoon), or a starry sky. That we can understand, learn from and predict the movements of glowing dots in the sky is truly an amazing thing.  Maybe it’s the deep blackness of the space beyond Rosetta in the photo. The hint of infinity, that of all of the places in universe that it could possibly be, it is parked next to a speeding rock, just as planned and nowhere else, is crazy. It is now in orbit around the comet and on the 12th of November, a lander is going to cruise down to the surface at walking pace and harpoon itself to the rock.

There might be deep stories to be learnt here about human nature, about life, and about how even futile gestures have meaning. Perhaps it hints at the beauty of collaborative endeavour, the power of the human mind or the incredible improbability of any of this happening in the first place. I think for me, it mostly just makes me feel happy and proud that we could achieve this amazing thing that 50 years ago would have been unfathomable.


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