WEL­COME

Focus-Science and Technology - - WELCOME -

Four years ago, the Euro­pean Space Agency (ESA) achieved some­thing that seemed im­pos­si­ble. It caught a comet. It was an idea first con­ceived in the 1970s, but it wasn’t un­til some 30 years later that, in March 2004, sci­en­tists from across the con­ti­nent launched Rosetta on a decade-long jour­ney. Over the next four years, the space­craft would swing around Mars, and then Earth three times, be­fore stop­ping in deep space just be­yond Jupiter. There Rosetta waited, in deep hi­ber­na­tion, for its ren­dez-vous with comet 67P/Churyu­mov-Gerasi­menko. Then in 2014, ESA woke Rosetta from its slum­ber and sent it chas­ing af­ter 67P. Even­tu­ally, in a ma­noeu­vre that would make Evel Knievel blush, Rosetta’s lan­der, Phi­lae, bounced down onto the sur­face of 67P, dis­cov­er­ing that it was un­like any­thing on Earth. The data it gath­ered, much of which has sur­prised sci­en­tists, is be­ing pored over to­day.

By Septem­ber 2016, Rosetta had trav­elled 3.6 times fur­ther away from the Sun than the Earth is, and the craft was start­ing to find it dif­fi­cult to har­vest suf­fi­cient so­lar en­ergy. ESA crashed Rosetta into the slab of rub­ble and ice it had spent 10 years chas­ing.

Now NASA and JAXA (the Ja­panese space agency) want to show what they can do. The two agen­cies have con­jured up dar­ing mis­sions to cap­ture and re­turn a sam­ple of an asteroid. Both want an­swers to ques­tions: did asteroids de­liver the ma­te­ri­als needed to light the spark of life on Earth? And how could we di­vert an asteroid that could end life as we know it? Find out how they’ll get their an­swers on p40.

PS – We’re head­ing to the bril­liant Blue­dot Fes­ti­val over 21-22 July. If you spot me, come and say hi! Daniel Ben­nett, Editor

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