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European Spacecraft Finally Hooks Up With Comet After Ten-Year Pursuit

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The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft has entered the orbit of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, ending a decade-long hunt to become the first vehicle to rendezvous with one.

Rosetta and comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are halfway between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, about 405 million kilometers from Earth, and are traveling at the speed of nearly 55,000 kilometers per hour, the ESA said Wednesday. Rosetta will accompany the comet for over a year of its 6.5-year orbit of the sun.

Rosetta, launched in 2004, had to make three complex gravity-assist flybys of Earth and one of Mars to help it towards the comet.

Rosetta will seek to understand the nature of the comet through an in situ study. Comets are one of the primitive building blocks of the Solar System and may have helped “seed” Earth with water, ESA said.

During its approach, Rosetta already discovered indications that the comet was emitting water vapor into space at about 300 milliliters per second.

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