Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rosetta 21 years in the making, just like FE

#STEM, we do bang on about it, heck, even Nicky Morgan waded in with a frankly unbalanced view of its importance (and I say that as a literal #STEM fanatic). She was wrong to deny the importance of the arts and literature. Few appreciate beauty more than a scientist; we look up, out, backwards and forwards with poetry in our hearts.

Today though #STEM really revved up its engines and showed us why it is a subject students should be studying. @El_Timbre showed the live feed in her Further Maths class, they said it was ‘riveting’ and it was.

Rosetta demonstrates the value we want our students to have; team work, planning, determination, motivation, persistence and collaboration. It began in November 1993, when the Mission was approved as a Cornerstone Mission in ESA's Horizons 2000 Science Programme. That’s 21 years ago and planning began earlier, just as we underwent Incorporation with the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

This is a mission that has been underway as long as FE has existed. That is dedication.

Since then, scientists and engineers from all over Europe and the United States have been combining their talents to build an orbiter and a lander for this unique expedition to unravel the secrets of a mysterious 'mini' ice world – a comet.

Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet’s nucleus.

It is the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to examine from close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun.

Shortly after it arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta despatched a robotic lander (Philae) for the first controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus.

The Rosetta lander’s instruments will obtain the first images from a comet’s surface and make the first in situ analysis to find out what it is made of.

Did you know the comet ‘sings’?

The comet seems to be emitting a ‘song’ in the form of oscillations in the magnetic field in the comet’s environment. It is being sung at 40-50 millihertz, far below human hearing, which typically picks up sound between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. To make the music audible to the human ear, the frequencies have been increased in this recording.

Why do it?

A project like this produces so many benefits. New technologies, new ways of thinking, leaps in engineering knowledge, new ways of working together.

Scientists will be eagerly waiting to compare Rosetta’s results with previous studies by ESA’s Giotto spacecraft and by ground-based observatories. These have shown that comets contain complex organic molecules - compounds that are rich in carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

These are the elements which make up nucleic acids and amino acids, the essential ingredients for life as we know it.

Did life on Earth begin with the help of comet seeding? Rosetta may help us to find the answer to this fundamental question.

Other missions have looked at:

·         Exploring nature, studying the effects of weightlessness and radiation in space.

·         Observing the earth, mapping phenomena such as the ozone layer and monitoring climate change.
·         Improving health, carrying out human physiology experiments on astronauts to study the effects of weightlessness on the human body and to contribute to solving health problems on Earth.

·         Innovating technologies and processes, studying materials science and fluid physics to help develop new technologies and materials.

·         Caring for the environment, developing life support systems for use in the spacecraft that can also lead to technologies for waste treatment and recycling.

Space exploration serves a cultural and inspirational purpose by fulfilling a deep need to understand the world, address questions about the origins of life and the nature of the universe. Comets could be the link.

As a friend pointed out today as we were watching the feed and waiting for the telemetry “100 years ago, we were fighting and killing each other in Europe, today, we are collaborating and celebrating this great project”.
Tomorrow, discuss it with your students. Is it money well spent, what are the advantages, are they inspired? Use Rosetta for Art, Religion, Humanities, Music, History, Literacy, Maths, Engineering, Health and of course, Science.
Most of all, celebrate this very human achievement with those who are our future.



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