By Will Rosenthal
On December 27th, 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing, Mr. Sam Gulkis, an astrophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and one of the people involved with the Rosetta mission.
As a child, Mr. Gulkis enjoyed taking objects such as computer and engines apart and putting them back together. Mr. Gulkis obtained a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, and a master’s degree and PhD in physics at the University of Florida. Before the Rosetta mission, Mr. Gulkis worked for Cornell University, at Cornell’s observatory in Puerto Rico. As for his role in the mission, Mr. Gulkis developed MIRO, one of the 11 instruments on, Philae, the robotic lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta. MIRO, which stands for Microwave Instrument on Rosetta Orbiter, analyzes (H2O) vapor using microwave signatures and probes beneath the surface of the comet. In more basic terms, MIRO will detect water on the comet, and try to determine if comets brought water to Earth billions of years ago.
The Rosetta mission will be the closest inspection of a comet ever made, with the Rosetta craft orbiting comet C-G, and landing the Philae probe to inspect and analyze the comet. The Rosetta mission began in 1955. The craft was launched in 2004 and took 10 years to reach comet C-G. In order to get near comet C-G, Rosetta needed to perform a series of orbits that became more and more similar to the comet’s until Rosetta’s orbit matched that of the C-G comet’s.
The Rosetta spacecraft is the first to go farther than Mars and rely on the Sun’s rays. The spacecraft’s other instruments will reveal the exact chemistry of the materials that the comet holds and help to analyze the comet, furthering our understanding of the role that these massive objects play in our universe.
The project’s most recent status? When the Philae probe attempted to land on the comet, the harpoons that were supposed to make is stick to the surface failed to fire, and the probe bounced multiple times, spending anywhere from one to two and a half hours after each bounce. Ultimately, the Philae probe landed in an awkward spot. Mr. Gulkis speculates that it is currently in a crater or stuck behind a rock. Since the Philae probe is solar powered and landed in a spot that has no access to sun, it is not currently active; however, Mr. Gulkis stated that the probe will have access to sunlight in a few months, and will then be able to collect data and send its information back to Earth.
The months ahead may provide dramatic information on the origins of our world and Mr. Gulkis may lay claim to much of the credit.