This image shows the orbit of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in aqua. The positions of the comet and planets are shown for February 26, 2004, the planned launch date for the Rosetta mission.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was discovered in 1969 by Klim Churyumov and Svetlana
Gerasimenko. The comet orbits the Sun once
every 6.57 years. Its orbit brings it closer to the Sun than Mars at the closest point (called "perihelion"),
and swings it a bit beyond the orbit of Jupiter at its furthest point from
the Sun (called "aphelion").
This comet has an unusual history. Before 1840 Churyumov-Gerasimenko's orbit
kept it much further from the Sun than does its current orbit. At that time its
perihelion distance, the distance between the Sun and the comet at the point
in the comet's orbit when it is closest to the Sun, was 4 AU (compared
to 1.29 AU now). It was not possible to view the comet from Earth. In 1840
the comet passed near Jupiter and that giant planet's immense gravity altered
the comet's orbit, moving its perihelion distance inward to 3 AU. Throughout
the next century, Churyumov-Gerasimenko's perihelion distance continued to
migrate inward, eventually reaching 2.77 AU. Finally, in 1959 the comet passed
near Jupiter again and was shifted into its current orbit. The comet's perihelion
distance is now 1.29 AU, which puts it about halfway
between the orbits of
Earth and Mars at its closest approach to the Sun.
Since Churyumov-Gerasimenko has only recently begun to swing near the Sun
during part of its orbit, the comet has not lost much of its icy mass due to
melting by the Sun. This means that the comet is relatively "fresh"; much of
the material in it hasn't changed much since the comet was born in the early
days of our Solar System. Scientists hope to learn about the early
stages of our Solar System's evolution by studying comets like Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
space mission will visit this comet in 2014. The spacecraft includes a lander that will touch down on the surface of the comet's nucleus. Scientists think
the nucleus of Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko is about 3 km wide by 5 km long
(about 2 miles by 3 miles).
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