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Comets, while not uncommon in our solar system, are actually observed in the night sky infrequently enough that an appearance by one of these mysterious objects has often led to wonder and fear. Our very existence may even have depended on them, as scientists debate the possible role they played in introducing water to our planet at some point in its development. A desire to discover more about these objects led to the Rosetta mission.

The daring mission involved sending a spacecraft to meet up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and then to send a lander, Philae, from the spacecraft to touch down on the surface. Researchers hoped to gather information about the early solar system, since comets act as a kind of time capsule. The material that the Earth formed from has undergone so many chemical processes that it has changed beyond recognition. Comets, which have done nothing but orbit the Sun for millennia, offer an insight into the way planetary systems evolve.

Churyumov-Gerasimenko is far from unknown to ground-based telescopes and passes between the orbits of Mars and Earth. It used to orbit the Sun from a greater distance, but passing relatively near the Earth has influenced its orbit and led to more activity on the surface as it passes closer to the Sun. This made it an ideal target for Rosetta, although not the first as delays to the project meant that an alternative target had to be selected.

Rosetta’s amazing journey to the comet was long and complicated. Mission controllers sent the spacecraft on a trajectory that involved passing the Earth three times and Mars once to use gravity to gain speed. Meanwhile, the spacecraft hibernated to save power for the mission ahead. This involved loss of radio contact with the Earth as the spacecraft was placed in a position that allowed its solar panels to absorb power from the rays of the sun.

When Rosetta arrived at the comet, its instruments began to analyse the object, while controllers on the ground began the painstaking task of identifying a suitable site for the lander, Philae, to aim for. The criteria for selection included the fact that Philae needed to be exposed to the sun’s rays for just the right amount to recharge its batteries but to avoid overheating. Finally, an area was chosen that would allow the landers equipment, including drills which would bring a sample of the comet on board the lander for analysis, to work most effectively.

Had Philae’s landing equipment been working perfectly, it would have gently touched down on the comet and hooks would have held it in place. As it was, the lander bounced and settled in an area that provided less than ideal exposure to the sun. With reduced energy, and lying on its side, the lander nonetheless sent very useful data back to the spacecraft, which then sent the information on to the Earth.

The data indicated that a considerable amount of water ice existed below a surface of dust and fine material. For some, this might lend support to the idea that the Earths oceans were formed by the impact of comets, although most experts tend to think that asteroids played a far greater role in this than comets did. Even so, Rosetta has established that visiting a comet is not the impossibility it might once have seemed.

ВОПРОС 1: Which of the following statements is TRUE, according to the author?
1) Comets are often seen from the Earth.
2) Comets are not rare in our solar system.
3) Scientists wonder why we can’t see comets.
4) Researchers are afraid a comet may hit the Earth.

ВОПРОС 2: One of the aims of the Rosetta mission was to …
1) see how long a comet can last for.
2) time a comet as it goes around the Sun.
3) answer questions about Earth’s early history.
4) send a sealed message to leave on the comet.

ВОПРОС 3: According to the author, Churyumov-Gerasimenko …
1) now passes the Earth more often than it used to.
2) cannot be seen through telescopes on the Earth.
3) was the original destination of Rosetta.
4) orbits the Sun more closely that it used to.

ВОПРОС 4: On its journey, Rosetta passed close by planets in our solar system to
1) keep in touch with the Earth.
2) make the spacecraft go faster.
3) gain energy from the Sun.
4) preserve battery power for the mission.

ВОПРОС 5: The author says that the landing site for the Philae lander needed to.
1) be permanently in sunlight to provide energy.
2) be in an area that had previously been drilled.
3) avoid allowing sunlight to fall on the lander.
4) take into account the science that was planned.

ВОПРОС 6: What happened when Philae attempted to land on the comet?
1) It successfully landed at the chosen landing site.
2) It hit the side of the comet and was destroyed.
3) It landed in an area that didn’t provide enough power.
4) It lost contact with the Earth and became useless.

ВОПРОС 7: The attitude of the author towards the Rosetta mission may be described
1) positive.
2) critical.
3) unenthusiastic.
4) pessimistic.

ВОПРОС 1: – 2
ВОПРОС 2: – 3
ВОПРОС 3: – 4
ВОПРОС 4: – 2
ВОПРОС 5: – 4
ВОПРОС 6: – 3
ВОПРОС 7: – 1