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Rosetta spacecraft: Scientists about to harpoon their big space whale




An image of the comet that the Rosetta spacecraft is orbiting.
An image of the comet that the Rosetta spacecraft is orbiting.
Courtesy of the European Space Agency

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Scientists at the European Space Agency came one step closer to harpooning their white whale last night. After a 10-year chase, the Rosetta spacecraft is now orbiting a comet. While comets have been studied before, this is the first time that scientists have raced down and attached a spacecraft to one of them.

Scientists want to study the make up of the space rock and see how it changes as it gets closer to the sun. And by moving the spacecraft to orbit the comet, they'll be able to monitor it with photographs that are sent back to Earth. 

Bruce Betts -  the Director of Science and Technology for The Planetary Society - notes in a conversation with A Martinez that the comet is likely just a ball of dirty ice. However, scientists won't know exactly what it's made up of until they launch a probe into the surface of the comet. The hope is that the harpoon attached to the probe will be able to stick into the rock, allowing scientists to study it.

And while the mission is only planned for a year and a half, if all goes well, we could be seeing photos of this comet's development for much longer.