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Comet-catcher given green light as guild picks space targets

Image: Andrzej Mirecki [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A mission to intercept a “truly pristine”, as-yet-undiscovered comet as it traverses the solar system has been approved, while research universities have pressed the EU to remember the practical applications of space exploration.

The European Space Agency confirmed on 19 June that its next big mission, costing an estimated €150 million, will involve sending three spacecraft to wait in the Earth’s shadow to encounter a deep-space comet. It is hoped that the project will gain insights into the composition and behaviour of these objects.

When a suitable comet comes into view, the craft will approach and examine the body’s gas, dust and plasma, building up a 3D image of the rocky ice-ball as it is swept by solar winds radiating from the sun. The project builds on ESA’s previous comet-hunting successes: the Giotto (above) and Rosetta missions.

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