RAS Public Lecture: Rosetta – the story so far

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Rosetta – the story so farProfessor Ian Wright, Open University(Geological Society Lecture Theatre) Writing in advance for a talk about Rosetta is necessarily fraught with uncertainty. For those of us involved with the mission (to rendezvous with, and land on, a comet) we have had to learn to expect the unexpected. So, at the time of writing the orbiter spacecraft has been pulled back to a safe distance from the comet, following a scare with navigation/control during a close fly-by. Since the comet is heading towards the Sun with surface activity increasing all the time, perhaps this means that such excursions will no longer be practical. At the same time, we know that Philae is on the surface, but not where it was intended to be. In fact, it is on its side within a crevice; we don't actually know where it is. Ironically, its orientation means that its chances of survival are greater than they should have been. But, a successful re-start of scientific investigations rests on a balance of spacecraft temperatures and degree of illumination. By the time of the talk the orbiter will hopefully have watched the comet go through and past its closest approach to the Sun ("perihelion"). And, with luck, Philae will have woken up and continued its campaign of analysing the surface. But for now, fingers remain crossed. Ian Wright is a Professor of Planetary Sciences at the Open University (based in Milton Keynes). His interests include the nature and distribution of the so-called "light elements" (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) within the Solar System. He likes to study materials that can be touched (rather than merely viewed). That means studying solid samples from various places within the Solar System. This is either done in a laboratory on Earth, or by taking a miniaturised version of the laboratory out into space. (No booking is required for this daytime lecture, however, please note that the lecture is repeated in the evening in the Royal Astronomical Society Lecture Theatre at 6 pm and booking is required.)