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Austrian tools to test minerals from birth of solar system

Austrian tools to test minerals from birth of solar system

By Maddy French

One of the world's most ambitious space expeditions is about to carry out investigations into the conditions of a comet using instruments made in Styria, Austria.

The European Space Agency (ESA) sent the Rosetta probe into space a decade ago to follow and land on a comet in order to take measurements of the conditions there.

Having been hibernating for the past two and half years to conserve energy, the Rosetta probe is due to wake up today and send a message to Earth to confirm it is still on course for the comet.

The Rosetta probe will run through a series of tasks that will help to warm up it's instruments before sending a signal to the ESA that everything is as it should be. If everything is in order, the ESA will command the turbo engines to propel the probe from it's current position of nine million km away from the comet to just 10km in September.

Once Rosetta probe has landed on the comet, scheduled for November, it will begin taking measurements using five Austrian instruments. These include an anchor harpoon to help two magnetometers, an instrument for measuring the water conditions and, importantly, a scanning microscope that will send back information about what the dust looks like and how it is structured. Styrian manufacturers are also responsible for the anchor harpoon that will be used to land the probe.

The measurements could help us understand how our environment has evolved over time as comets are believed to contain materials that are unchanged since the Solar System first formed.

ESA director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said: "Rosetta is a unique mission - unique technologically, unique scientifically, and unique philosophically because comets may be at the origin of who we are."

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