Agilent is off on a Comet!

In 1877, French author Jules Verne published “Hector Servadac,” translated into English as “Off on a Comet.”  In this science-fiction novel, several dozen people find themselves aboard a comet after it brushes against the Earth.  Many of Verne’s other fantasies, including submarines and manned spacecraft, have now become reality.  The concept of boarding a comet may soon join that list.

In August 2014, the robotic spacecraft Rosetta is scheduled to become the first mission to orbit a comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  In November 2014, Rosetta hopes to celebrate another milestone by deploying Philae to 67P/CG, the first probe to land on the surface of a comet.

Rosetta was first launched more than 10 years ago in March 2004 by the European Space Agency.  It awoke successfully from hibernation in January 2014 to begin scanning 67P/CG for a suitable landing site.  Ultimately, the spacecraft will come within one kilometer of the comet’s surface to deploy its lander.

While Verne foresaw an unfortunate end to his fictional travelers (note “Servadac” spelled backwards), Rosetta and Philae are unmanned.  Instead, both vehicles carry a number of sophisticated scientific instruments.  Agilent is well represented.

COSAC (Cometary Sampling and Composition experiment) is a gas analyzer that will detect and identify complex organic molecules.  It has eight capillary GC columns, including two Agilent columns: an UltiMetal Carbobond (very unique and complicated to make) and CP-Chirasil-DEX CB.  COSAC also uses Agilent Micro GC Thermal Conductivity Detectors.

PTOLEMY is an evolved gas analyzer that will measure isotopic ratios of light elements.  This GC/MS system has three Agilent columns: a CP-PoraPLOT Q, a CP-Molsieve 5A and a CP-Sil 8 CB, all in UltiMetal.

Just as the original Rosetta Stone helped historians unlock the mysteries of ancient cultures, the new Rosetta may help scientists learn more about comets and the origins of our solar system.


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