The countdown to comet interception is on at Blackrock Castle

CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory in Cork will open its doors to the public tomorrow for a live feed from the European Space Agency’s nerve-jangling bid to drop a lander on a comet.

ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 6 after a 10-year journey. The mission’s lander, Philae, will be deployed 22.5km from the comet at 8.35am Irish time and will land about seven hours later. Confirmation is expected at around 4pm-5pm and Blackrock Observatory will welcome the public from 3pm to see events unfold.

Last night, Philae was switched on as the control team started to warm it up. ESA said both it and Rosetta were “in great shape” and project scientist Mark Taylor said the latest data showed the comet surface to be “somewhere between hard-packed snow and cigarette ash”.

The mission is one of the most complex and ambitious in the history of space exploration, as the comet measures just 4km long, and is moving at 120,000km per hour in relation to the sun.

Once Philae lands, it will investigates the role comets may have played in seeding Earth with water, as well as the organic building blocks for life.

Ahead of the landing, Cork Institute of Technology will host 100 second-level students who will have a live link-up with Irish-born ESA scientist Laurence O’Rourke at the Lander Control Centre in Cologne, Germany.

The UCC graduate will outline preparations for the landing and give an insight into how the Rosetta team will assess data from Philae. The CIT event is part of a Cosmic Careers Day that will see scientists and space industry specialists tell students about careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths (Stem), while Niamh Shaw will perform her ToSpace theatre show.

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