NASA’s Rosetta “Alice” Spectrometer Reveals Earth’s UV Fingerprint

Orisis

During the spacecraft’s approach, the Earth appeared as a crescent. This image of the Earth was taken around the same time by the OSIRIS camera on Rosetta. Credit: ESA 2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

On November 13, the European Space Agency’s comet orbiter spacecraft, Rosetta, swooped by Earth for its third and final gravity assist on the way to humankind’s first rendezvous to orbit and study a comet in more detail than has ever been attempted.

One of the instruments aboard Rosetta is the NASA-funded ultraviolet spectrometer, Alice, which is designed to probe the composition of the comet’s atmosphere and surface – the first ultraviolet spectrometer ever to study a comet up close. During Rosetta’s recent Earth flyby, researchers successfully tested Alice’s performance by viewing the Earth’s ultraviolet appearance.

“It’s been over five years since Rosetta was launched on its 10-year journey to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Alice is working well,” says instrument Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute.

“As one can see from the spectra we obtained during this flyby of the Earth, the instrument is in focus and shows the main ultraviolet spectral emission of our home planet. These data give a nice indication of the scientifically rich value of ultraviolet spectroscopy for studying the atmospheres of objects in space, and we’re looking forward to reaching the comet and exploring its mysteries.”

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Space station needs ‘extension to 2020’, Europe wants a decision in 2010 on the life of the International Space Station

ISS International Space Station

At the moment, no programme for its use nor any funding has been put in place to support the platform beyond 2015.

But the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Director General, Jean-Jacques Dordain, told the BBC the uncertainty was undermining best use of the ISS.

He said he was persuaded of its worth, and expressed the desire to keep flying the station until at least 2020.

Only by guaranteeing longevity would more scientists come forward to run experiments on the orbiting laboratory, he argued.

“I am convinced that stopping the station in 2015 would be a mistake because we cannot attract the best scientists if we are telling them today ‘you are welcome on the space station but you’d better be quick because in 2015 we close the shop’,” he said.

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