Rosetta's 'rubber ducky' comet makes closest approach to Earth, will disappear for 200 years

Comet 67P is the famed target of Rosetta's Rosetta mission. It made its closest approach to Earth in Nov 2021.
Comet 67P is the famed target of Rosetta's Rosetta mission. It made its closest approach to Earth in November 2021. (Image credit: ESA)

Comet 67P, the famous cometary lander that hosted the first ever in 2014, came within inches of Earth on Friday, November 12. For the next 200 years, the comet will not return to Earth, even though it is visible enough with amateur telescopes.

According to Astronomy Now, Comet 67P was within Mars' orbit at a distance 39 million miles (62.8 millions kilometers) during its closest pass at 7 :50 EST (0050 GMT).

Nine days before, the comet had passed perihelion. This is the point at which the sun is closest to it in its elliptical orbit about our star. The comet was approximately 112 million miles (181 millions km) away from the sun at this time.

Similar: Photos of Europe's Rosetta mission to the comet

EarthSky says that the comet's orbit, which is one around the sun every six-and-a-half years, will start to diverge from ours. The celestial snowball will not make another close pass until 2214. Skywatchers should give it a try and point their telescopes at the comet's path. EarthSky stated that it can be found near Pollux, which is the brightest star in Gemini.

Rosetta, a European mission orbiting Comet 67P after a 10-year journey through our solar system, was placed in the international media spotlight by Rosetta. Rosetta orbited closely the comet for over two and a quarter years. It had made detailed observations and measurements of its surface and immediate surroundings.

This sky map shows the location of Comet 67P in the night sky as seen from New York City on November 12, 2021 at 11:30 p.m. SkySafari app image credit

great to see #comet67P/C-G back in our skies this morning in #Gemini @BristolAstroSoc @markmccaughrean @mggtTaylor @StargazerRob @PeterLewis55 @DavidBflower @sjb_astro @xRMMike #comet 3, 2021 See more

Rosetta had brought a small probe named Philae with her to the mission. This was the highlight of the mission. Although the landing on December 14, 2014 was the first ever made on a comet it went without a hitch. Philae bounced twice upon touchdown and ended up in a much less convenient place than scientists had expected. Later, it was discovered that the two harpoons used to attach the lander on first contact with the comet failed.

Philae ended up under a cliff, where its solar panels couldn't see the sun. The probe lost power after two days and eventually fell asleep. The comet's angle to the sun caused the probe to briefly wake up in June 2015.

Rosetta and Philae made Comet 67P one of the most studied comets. Scientists continue to sift through the wealth of data that the mission provided.

Rosetta orbiter crashed onto the surface of the comet at the end its mission. It took more detailed photographs and measurements. This means that the snowball-shaped duck (one of the most significant discoveries of the mission) is speeding away with two human-made passengers.

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