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Did you like Rosetta?  You will love Comet Interceptor

Did you like Rosetta? You will love Comet Interceptor

Will this comet be shaped like a duck or a potato like Gauri that an elephant visited on her travels? rightly guided † No one can say now, not even among scientists who are preparing for another space adventure comet objection† Approved June 8 by European Space Agency (European Space Agency), in cooperation with its Japanese counterpart (JAXA), this “small” mission – less than 1,000 kg for the parent probe and two satellites – will be big in suspense.

The launch is scheduled for 2029 and the goal is to explore “more primitive comets,” coming at worst from the confines of the solar system, but at best directly from a planetary system different from ours, as we’ve discovered. every year.

Blind to the uncooked comet

Why is this “virginity” required? “All known comets are short-period comets, regularly passing close to the Sun, and thus have been ‘cooked’ with them over thousands and millions of years. The aim of this mission is to discover and study a new comet, much closer to the conditions of formation of our solar system,” answers Philippe Garnier, Lecturer and researcher at the Research Institute for Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences (IRAP*) of Toulouse, who collaborates on two of the three instruments of the Comet Interceptor.

As a result of this ambition, when you leave the task you are “blind” without knowing the end goal. The probes – the secret passengers of the Ariel expedition departing to find exoplanets – will “stop” at the L2 Lagrange point, “the equilibrium point that allows you to stay aft and rotate in equilibrium with the Earth,” explains Philippe Garnier. From the observatory stand they will wait for the rare pearl. To find it, they would stay focused for weeks or even months on the Oort cloud, “a huge reservoir of tiny icy pebbles from the remnants of the Solar System’s formation expelled by gravity.”

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“Family” cooperation for closer monitoring

Another originality of the mission, thanks to the family cooperation of the three satellites, the comet they set their sights on will be studied from every angle to reveal a “sort of a three-dimensional profile”. Philippe Garnier confirms: “A very simplified view, where Rosetta shows us how complicated things are on a completely asymmetric comet and where there are different processes on or under the surface. The French Lees instrument will be responsible for measuring electrons to see the dynamics of the comet. The Maniac instrument will be that Europeans will be able to On analyzing the composition of the gases emitted: oxygen and dioxide or carbon monoxide of course, but perhaps also other organic matter that we find on Earth that may be inherited far from another comet.

Rosetta discovered phosphorous and the amino acid in Curie, and it “opened a lot of doors,” notes Philippe Garnier. Who knows if the most original comet will not hold new surprises and new clues to reveal the secrets of life on Earth?

* IRAP / OMP – CNRS / CNES / UT3 Paul Sabatie