The Moby Dick of Astronomy

How to Harpoon a Dirty Snowball

Herman Melville’s epic sea story of Captain Ahab’s voyage in pursuit of Moby Dick [a great white whale] was published in 1851.

The opening line, “Call me Ishmael,” is one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature. Ishmael then narrates the voyage of the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab.

Ahab has one purpose: revenge on Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee.

The detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and the process of extracting whale oil, as well as life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew, are mixed with exploration of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.

Nearly a century later [in 1949] Fred Whipple wrote a non-scientific work of the imagination where he “visualized” comets as conglomerates of ices and meteoric materials.

Fred Whipple - A Cometary Model

SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System – Digital Library for Physics and Astronomy…111..375W&link_type=ARTICLE&db_key=AST&high=

Overall, Fred Whipple’s visualisation technique was a non-scientific work of imagination.

He ignored observational evidence regarding comets and especially overlooked observations regarding Comet Encke [which was the subject of his first Comet Model paper in 1950].

Evidently, Fred Whipple’s faith in extraterrestrial water and “dirty snowballs” caused him to abandon the Scientific Method.

Inventions and Deceptions – Dirty Snowballs

Sadly, the mainstream believers in the dirty snowball story have pursued these elusive icy dirtballs for the last sixty-four years in what has become an epic story of space exploration.

This strange obsession with cometary extraterrestrial water is difficult to understand given the wealth of modern contradictory information:

1986: Probes fail to locate surface water on Halley’s comet.
1994: No volatile gases were observed when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke apart.
2000: The debris of the disintegrated Comet Linear revealed virtually no water.
2001: Flyby of Comet Borrelly detected no frozen water on its surface.
2004: Flyby of Comet Wild 2 did not find a trace of water on the surface.
2005: Deep Impact on comet 9P/Tempel only showed “weak emission from water vapour”.

Evidently, the mainstream still runs hot over cometary extraterrestrial water long after Deep Impact falsified their “dirty snowball” cometary theory.

Running Hot and Cold Extraterrestrial Water

However, the mainstream faithful are keeping their fingers crossed that they will finally be vindicated when the Rosetta spacecraft dispatches the Philae lander to harpoon the four kilometre wide comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenkoir in November 2014.

Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, officially designated 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, is a comet with a current orbital period of 6.45 years.

It will next come to perihelion on 13 August 2015.

Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko is the destination of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft mission, launched on 2 March 2004, which “woke up” from hibernation mode on 20 January 2014 to monitor the comet and select a suitable site for an attempted landing in November 2014 by its Philae lander.

Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenkoir

Rosetta is a robotic spacecraft built and launched by the European Space Agency to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

It is part of the ESA Horizon 2000 cornerstone missions and is the first mission designed to both orbit and land on a comet.

Rosetta was launched in March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket and will reach the comet in May 2014.

The spacecraft consists of two main elements: the Rosetta space probe orbiter, which features 12 instruments, and the Philae robotic lander, with an additional nine instruments.

The Rosetta mission will orbit 67P for 17 months and is designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted.

The mission is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany.

Rosetta Spacecraft

This latest epic chapter in the dirty snowball saga began over twenty years ago.

In 1992, after NASA cancelled CRAF due to budgetary limitations, ESA decided to develop a CRAF-style project on its own.

By 1993 it was evident that the ambitious sample return mission was unfeasible with the existing ESA budget, so the mission was redesigned, with the final flight plan resembling the cancelled CRAF mission, an asteroid flyby followed by a comet rendezvous with in-situ examination, including a lander.

It was set to be launched on 12 January 2003 to rendezvous with the comet 46P/Wirtanen in 2011.

However, this plan was abandoned after a failure of the Ariane 5 carrier rocket during a communications satellite launch on 11 December 2002, grounding it until the cause of the failure could be determined.

A new plan was formed to target the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko, with launch on 26 February 2004 and rendezvous in 2014.

Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 at 7:17 GMT.

The first flyby of Earth occurred on 4 March 2005.

On 25 February 2007, the craft was scheduled for a low-altitude bypass of Mars, to correct the trajectory after the first launch attempt in 2003 was delayed by one year.

This Mars manoeuvre was therefore nicknamed “The Billion Euro Gamble”

In 2007, as it approached Earth for a fly-by, the spacecraft was briefly designated as minor planet 2007 VN84 due to it being misidentified as an asteroid.

The spacecraft performed a close flyby of asteroid 2867 Šteins on 5 September 2008.

Rosetta’s third and final flyby of Earth happened on 12 November 2009.

Trajectory of Rosetta Space Probe

Since its launch, Rosetta has travelled around the Sun five times, picking up speed and aligning itself with its final destination.

For the coldest leg of the mission, as Rosetta ventured out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, the spacecraft was put into deep-space hibernation.

In May Rosetta will enter slow orbit around the comet before the November grand finale.

In May 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft will enter a slow orbit around the comet and gradually slow down in preparation for releasing a lander that will make contact with the comet itself.

The lander, named Philae, will approach Churyumov–Gerasimenko at relative speed around 1 m/s (2.2 mph; 3.6 km/h) and on contact with the surface, two harpoons will be fired into the comet to prevent the lander from bouncing off.

Additional drills are used to further secure the lander on the comet.

Simulation of the Landing of Rosetta Philae

Simulation of the Landing of Rosetta Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
M. Hilchenbach – Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung – Katlenburg-Lindau

The Rosetta lander - Philae

Therefore, get the popcorn ordered for November when the European Space Agency may discover whether comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko actually contains frozen water [H2O] or just releases the hydroxyl radical [OH] into space [as was the case with Deep Impact and comet Temple 1].

The case of missing water is even more severe in the instance of Deep Impact and Comet Tempel 1.

If a thin crust of dust hides the water below the surface of the nucleus, one would think that a newly formed crater, estimated to be the size of a football field and perhaps 65 feet deep, would be exactly what was needed to add life to the comet’s water-producing ability.

The ice certainly could not be more than a few feet beneath the insulating material—and that’s thinking generously.

Any deeper than that, and the Sun’s heating could have nothing to do with the comet’s discharge.

The explosion removed many thousands of tons of material.

But prior to impact, the calculated “water” output was 550 pounds per second; and not long after the impact, the calculated output was, once again, 550 pounds per second.

Comet Tempel - Deep Impact

So despite the impressive explosion, the envisioned sub-surface water refused to reveal itself.

By NASA’s own calculations, therefore, Deep Impact has only made matters worse for standard theory.

No one should be permitted to state as fact the idea that large volumes of “water” fill the comas of comets.

The scientific instruments do not see water.

What they see as the most abundant companion of cometary dust is the “hydroxyl” radical, OH.

Deep Impact—Where’s the Water?

Either way, let’s hope the ESA has more luck in their amazing adventure than Captain Ahab.

Ahab ignores this voice of reason and continues with his ill-fated chase.

As the three boats sail out to hunt him, Moby Dick damages two of them, forcing them to go back to the ship and leaving only Ahab’s vessel intact.

Ahab harpoons the whale, but the harpoon-line breaks.

Moby Dick then rams the Pequod itself, which begins to sink.

As Ahab harpoons the whale again, the unfolding harpoon-line catches him around his neck and he is dragged into the depths of the sea by the diving Moby Dick.

04 Sept 2014
NASA’s Alice ultraviolet (UV) spectrograph aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet orbiter has delivered its first scientific discoveries.
Rosetta, in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is the first spacecraft to study a comet up close.

As Alice began mapping the comet’s surface last month, it made the first far ultraviolet spectra of a cometary surface.
From these data, the Alice team discovered that the comet is unusually dark at ultraviolet wavelengths and that the comet’s surface – so far – shows no large water-ice patches.
Alice also is already detecting both hydrogen and oxygen in the comet’s coma, or atmosphere.

“We’re a bit surprised at both just how very unreflective the comet’s surface is, and what little evidence of exposed water-ice it shows,” says Dr. Alan Stern, Alice principal investigator and an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division.

Comet 67P - 3 August 2014

21 Oct 2014
They are still dreaming of a dirty snowball whilst looking at the “sand dunes” on Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Apparently, these are “dusty dunes” because “it’s not sand as we know it” – just like its not ice as we know it.

It’s a large icy lump of rock that has spent millions of years hurtling through the vacuum of space, so you can imagine the surprise on the faces of ESA researchers when they discovered Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko possessed what appeared to be sand dunes.

Of course, it’s not sand as we know it, but instead dust that is almost inexplicably collecting on the comet’s surface.

Sand Dunes on Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The images above were taken on October 18th with Rosetta approximately 8km away from Comet 67P, and the presence of those dusty dunes will be the focus of a great deal of study on the part of Rosetta’s science team. However, most of ESA’s energies will be fully focused on the events leading up to November 12th, when the Rosetta team will attempt the first soft-landing on a comet in human history.

Stunning Rosetta Images Reveal Sand Dunes on Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko

13 Nov 2014
Harpoon failure, two bounces, stopped by a big rock and no ice in sight.

Boffins are still analysing exactly how the lander managed its epic touchdown yesterday when its harpoons failed to fire, but it now looks like the craft bounced twice before it finally finished landing.

Just how or why the lander stopped bouncing, whether its ice-screw legs have drilled into the surface and other questions remain to be answered, but the first image from the CIVA instrument shows Philae sitting on the space-rock.

In the picture, one of Philae’s legs can be seen in the foreground, though whether or not it’s touching the ground is difficult to make out. Though ESA won’t be saying anything until later this afternoon, theories abound, including the idea that the lander may have slid across the surface, to be stopped by the large rock seen in the picture.

First Comet Surface Picture

17 Nov 2014

Philae is now in standby mode on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after its battery power ran down.

Before the lander went to sleep, ESA managed to send commands for the craft to try to shift itself around in the hopes that it could get its largest solar panel into a better position to catch the Sun and potentially recharge it.

The bouncing landing of Philae, which took it around a mile from its intended landing site, stuck the craft in the lee of a rock formation that has kept its solar panels mainly in shadow.

Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM; pre-processed by Mikel Catania

Philae bounce


Gallery | This entry was posted in Comet Halley, Inventions and Deceptions, Science, Solar System, Water. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Moby Dick of Astronomy

  1. malagabay says:

    Rosetta has caught a first glimpse of its destination comet since waking up from deep-space hibernation.

    Rosetta - destination comet.

    Narrow-angle view of comet 67P/CG taken on 21 March.

  2. Pingback: Protecting Lunar Archaeology | MalagaBay

  3. malagabay says:

    Reported by RT: Water has been on Earth all along

    Analyzing the relatively untouched areas of the Earth’s mantle, researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa have reported that volcanic rocks acquired from Canada’s Baffin Island in 1985 contain water with a low amount of deuterium – a hydrogen isotope containing an extra neutron – compared to its level of hydrogen.

    The low levels of deuterium indicate that water did not come from a source outside Earth, such as a violent asteroid collision.

    It was previously believed that comets might have carried water to Earth.

    Scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which landed on the surface of a comet exactly one year ago, have said that asteroids were likely responsible for forming the Earth’s oceans.

    In December, researchers said that Comet 67P, had deuterium levels three times greater than water on Earth.

    Today asteroids have very limited water, that’s clear. But that was probably not always the case,” said Rosetta study leader Kathrin Altwegg.

    Water has been on Earth all along – study of volcanic rocks reveals 13 Nov, 2015 20:49

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