A spacecraft launched in March 2004 by the → European Space Agency to be the first man-made object to orbit a → comet's → nucleus. Rosetta will also be the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads toward → perihelion in the inner → solar system. After a ten-year voyage across the solar system, it will reach a → periodic comet known as Comet 67P/ → Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta will remain in close proximity to the icy nucleus as it plunges toward the warmer inner reaches of the Sun's realm. Rosetta orbiter's scientific payload includes 11 different instruments, in addition to a robotic lander and 10 solar panels spanning 32 m tip to tip. In November 2014, Rosetta will launch the 100 kg lander, named Philae, onto the comet. Philae will touch down and then fire a harpoon to anchor itself and prevent it from escaping the comet's weak gravity. The lander carries 10 instruments, including a drill to take samples of subsurface material. More than a year will pass before the remarkable mission comes to an end in December 2015. By then, both the spacecraft and the comet will have circled the Sun and will be on their way out of the inner solar system. Rosetta's prime objective is to help understand the origin and evolution of the solar system. The comet's composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the solar system formed, more than 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta and its lander will provide essential information to understand how the solar system formed. Before arriving at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenk, Rosetta flew by the → asteroids 2867 → Steins and 21 → Lutetia in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and gathered data on them.
Named for the Rosetta Stone, a black stele that was inscribed with a royal decree (196 BC) in two languages using three scripts: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic, and Greek. The Rosetta Stone was found in a small village in the Nile Delta called Rashid (Rosetta) in 1799. The spacecraft's robotic lander is called Philae, after a similarly inscribed obelisk found on an island in the Nile River. Both the stone and the obelisk were key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, carried out by Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) in 1822. Astronomers hope the Rosetta mission will provide a key to many questions about the origins of the solar system.