Europe celebrated its first major success in cometary research back in 1986 with Giotto, which at the time flew past the famous Halley's Comet at a distance of 600 kilometres, transmitting the first images of the comet's nucleus back to Earth. Further missions to study comets have been conducted under the auspices of NASA since the Rosetta orbiter was launched in 2004.
The Stardust spacecraft flew past Comet Wild 2 in 2003, gathering particles of dust in its coma and bringing them back to Earth in a tiny landing capsule. The extended mission Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) investigated Comet Tempel 1 during a flyby in February 2011.
The successful Deep Impact orbiter travelled to this comet back in 2005. A copper projectile blew a crater into its surface, and the instruments on board the orbiter then analysed the cloud formed on impact. In 2010, Deep Impact moved on to investigate the Comet Hartley 2 as part of the project EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation).
Exploring the smaller objects found in the Solar System, comets in particular, holds particular interest in the world of science, as these celestial bodies may yield answers to two significant questions in research: what happened in the Solar System during the first millions of years of its existence, and where can the original building blocks of life be found?
Missions to comets
Last modified:16/01/2014 11:00:28