More than a decade ago, the European Space Agency launched an orbiter named Rosetta, bound on a circuitous voyage to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the years since, Rosetta has been drawn in and flung along by multiple gravity assist maneuvers, visiting the Earth three times and making observations of the Moon, Mars, and several asteroids and comets. In January of this year, after 31 months of hibernation, Rosetta re-awoke, nearing comet 67P. Recently, it approached to within 100 km of the comet, entering orbit and preparing send a lander to the surface. The lander, named Philae, will be deployed in November, securing itself to the comet with harpoons and drills to prevent it from bouncing away in the weak gravity. The lander and orbiter are then scheduled to ride along, escorting the comet on its upcoming close approach to the Sun next August, all the while sending imagery and data home to be combined with Earth-based observations. Gathered here are some snapshots of Rosetta’s incredible trip so far.
The Ardbeg Distillery is getting ready to test a drink that’s literally out of this world – the first whiskey to have ever been matured in outer space. After spending three years on the International Space Station, the vial of single malt is finally returning to Earth. It is expected to land on solid ground in Kazakhstan on September 12, before making its way to Houston.
The project is part of an experiment to study the impact of gravity on how alcohol matures. The whisky was launched into outer space in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October 2011, along with particles of charred oak. The vial containing the alcoholic drink was specially designed for the mission, and has been orbiting the earth 15 times a day for 1,045 days, on the ISS.
When the vial returns, the alcohol won’t be consumed right away. It has to be tested by scientists first, and compared with regular whisky from another bottle that was corked around the same time. They plan to examine the interaction of the Ardbeg-crafted molecules with charred oak, to measure the differences between earth-whiskey and space-whiskey.
“This is one small step for man but one giant leap for whisky,” said Ardbeg director Dr. Bill Lumsden. “The team hopes to uncover how flavors develop in different gravitational conditions – findings which could revolutionise the whisky-making process.”
Better living through chemistry – and physics!
Gotta love science. 🙂