On November 12, 02014 from 6:00am to 9:00am PT, you can watch the live stream of the Rosetta Space Probe (which carries our Rosetta Disk) sending its lander, Philae, down to comet 67P.
Here in the Bay Area, The Long Now Foundation is partnering with the Chabot Space Center and swissnex SF to host a breakfast event at the Chabot Space & Science Center. The event will feature the live stream and our own Dr. Laura Welcher giving a presentation about the Rosetta Disk, as well as Chabot’s staff astronomer Ben Burress and a live Skype with Kathrin Altwegg from the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt. Doors & breakfast are at 6:00am; tickets and more information can be found here.
For over a decade, Long Now has closely watched the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission as it has orbited the Sun in search of comet 67P and untold scientific breakthroughs. This pioneering space probe was launched in early 02004, maneuvered itself into orbit around comet 67p earlier this year, and on November 12 it will be the first human-made craft to make contact with the nucleus of a comet.
For the latter purpose, the Rosetta probe carries Philae, a small landing craft bristling with scientific instruments and the harpoons and drills necessary to “landing” on a low-gravity object like a comet. At just four kilometers in diameter, comet 67P’s gravity is but a millionth of what we feel on Earth, which makes the landing a uniquely challenging endeavor.
While Philae descends towards the comet’s surface and immediately after it has touched down, it will perform a bevy of tests and observations in order to send back as much data as possible – via Rosetta, still orbiting the comet – in case any part of this tricky maneuver goes awry and damages or destroys the craft. Assuming the landing and deployment of Philae’s instruments goes according to plan, the probe will continue to monitor and study the comet as it approaches the Sun and heats up. At some point in March of 02015, it is expected that comet 67P’s proximity to the Sun will cause Philae to overheat, ending its useful life.
While Rosetta has been in orbit around comet 67P, it has been studying the terrain in search of a relatively safe landing spot for Philae. The comet’s landscape is characterized primarily by jagged cliffs and boulders, but the ESA team identified five potential options before choosing their preferred target for the November 12, 02014 landing.
The location of the Rosetta Disk on the Rosetta Spacecraft
Near the turn of the century, while the mission was coming together here on terra firma, a member of the ESA team contacted Long Now because of our own Rosetta Project.
The ESA’s Rosetta probe was inspired by the Egyptian artifact, just as our Rosetta Project was, because of what an essential historical “key” it represented. By allowing linguists and historians to decipher the long-forgotten hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt, the Rosetta Stone “unlocked” the writings of the rich and long-standing culture that built the Great Pyramids, the Great Sphinx and ruled the Nile delta for millennia.
ESA’s scientists hope that comet 67P will serve a similar unlocking role for our understanding of life on Earth. It’s hypothesized that the molecules that eventually became DNA and gave rise to all living things on our planet came not from the Earth itself, but instead from comets and asteroids of the early solar system. By landing Philae directly onto the comet’s surface, scientists will have their first opportunity to directly analyze the material of a cometary nucleus for signs of the ancient organic molecules that can confirm this theory.
Long Now’s Rosetta Project has created a micro-etched, nickel disk meant to last thousands of years that houses an archive of human languages so that future archaeologists and linguists might be able to unlock the writings of civilizations whose languages are likely to be lost in coming centuries.
Inspired by the resonance of this hope to unlock knowledge of the past and future, the ESA team offered to put a copy of the Rosetta Disk on the Rosetta Probe and at this very moment an archive of 1,500 human languages is floating out among the solar system, in orbit around comet 67P.