An artist’s impression of Rosetta orbiting the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasime. Photo: ESA, image by AOES Medialab.
Nov 03 2014 Posted: 14:23 GMT

Lecture to mark landing of Philae space probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The European Space Agency will land the Philae probe onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, 12 November. Philae has been travelling to the comet for over ten years. It is the first time that such a rendezvous and landing has been attempted.

To mark this astronomical occasion, NUI Galway will hold a special lecture organised by the University’s Astronomy Society and School of Physics. The lecture will be given by Professor Andy Shearer from the School of Physics and will include a live demonstration of what a comet is, as well as describing the importance of comets to us on the Earth.

Comets are the debris left behind when the solar system and the Earth formed 4.6 billion years ago. Their study gives us clues as to what the conditions were like when life first developed approximately 4 billion years ago. Their dramatic appearance in the night sky with a fuzzy head and long tail have always inspired mankind. It is thought most of the water on the earth was brought here by comets in the early part of the Earth life - if it wasn’t for comets we wouldn’t be here today.

The European Space Agency (ESA) sent a space craft to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko which was discovered by two Russian astronomers in 1969. This journey took ten years and it flew past Earth and Mars once each, gaining speed each time. Since August the space craft, Rosetta, has been in close orbit around the comet looking for a place to land. ESA have decided that it is safe to land on the comet and will launch the probe, Philae, on 12 November. If the mission is a success the NUI Galway talk should include some of the first pictures from the surface of a comet.

During the lecture, Professor Shearer will make a comet from its normal raw ingredients of water, organic tar and gravel. As comets are in deep space they are very cold and to mimic the conditions, the comet mix will be cooled to -170 degrees celsius. In this way Professor Shearer can show how the cometary fuzzy head and tail form.

The lecture is part of the University’s Science Week which is organised by the Astronomy Society, will take place at 7.30pm on Wednesday, 12 November in room IT 250, IT Building. The event is free to attend but spaces are limited so arriving early is advised. For more information contact organiser Laura Boyle of NUI Galway’s Astronomy Society at l.boyle2@nuigalway.ie.

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