Tomorrow will be a big day for scientists at the European Space Agency. That’s when the Rosetta spacecraft (pictured), which has been in hibernation for two years, is scheduled to reactivate. Launched in 2004, its mission is to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
Rosetta has already done flybys of Mars and two asteroids. Its rendezvous with the comet is scheduled to occur in May well beyond the orbit of Mars. Not only will Rosetta study the comet from space, in November it will dispatch a robotic lander named Philae that will attempt to attach itself to the comet using harpoon anchors. Goals of the mission include examining the chemical composition of the comet and assessing the nature of its nucleus. The mission is scheduled to last for 17 months, and will be the most detailed study of a comet ever undertaken.
The spacecraft’s name, of course, references the Rosetta Stone which served as a key to unlocking Egyptian hieroglyphics after it was discovered by archaeologists in 1799. The lander, meanwhile, is named after the Egyptian island of Philae where an obelisk was found that helped decipher the Rosetta Stone.