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Uploaded:2014-10-30
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SciShow Space News gives you a whiff of comet 67P, and takes you through a record-breaking skydive from an altitude five times the height of Mount Everest.
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Sources:
http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2014/10/23/the-perfume-of-67pc-g/
http://sci.esa.int/rosetta/35061-instruments/?fbodylongid=1650
http://blogs.esa.int/rosetta/2014/09/11/rosina-tastes-the-comets-gases/
http://www.chemguide.co.uk/analysis/masspec/howitworks.html
http://www.paragonsdc.com/index.php?action=viewPost&postID=50
Chur-

Churyum-

Churyumov-gerasimenko? It's hard to say, I'll give you that. But if you care about the universe, you should get to know that name, because it's the name of the first comet that humanity will ever make direct physical contact with, when the Rosetta Probe sends a lander to its surface next month.

We're already starting to get some important data about Churyumov-gerasimenko, also known as 67P. Like the comet apparently smells like urine, along with rotten eggs, formaldehyde, alcohol, and vinegar, among other things. 

For the last 12 years, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has been closing in on 67P. I guess now we know what the P stands for! And since August, one of Rosetta's instruments known as the ROSINA has been sniffing it, electronically, at least.

Comets are made of rock and ices of various compounds. And as a comet nears the inner solar system, the sun heats those ices into vapors, which then become a sort of atmosphere around the comet, called its coma. And that's what ROSINA has been studying since 67P was about 500 million kilometers from the sun, and its coma started to form.

Using two mass spectrometers, ROSINA has taken more than 40,000 measurements, and detected the presence of water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and sulphur dioxide, along with several other pungent compounds. To illustrate the richness of this coma, Rosetta researchers point out that if you could smell the comet, you would probably wish that you hadn't. 

Now astronomers have detected some of these compounds in other comets, using spectrographs at a greater distance. But we've never been this close to a comet before, and this is our first chance to learn what comets are really made of, and how their comas form. Astronomers hope this encounter might teach us how comets from different parts of the solar system might differ in composition.

Our pal 67P hails from the Kuiper Belt, that ring of icy debris past the orbit of Neptune. But the comet's siding spring, which just buzzed Mars last week, originated in the even more distant Oort Cloud. So the closer we get to these celestial objects, the closer we'll get to understanding the history of our solar system.

And another new frontier was reached last week when Google Vice President Alan Eustace jumped from basically halfway to space. Eustace fell from the height of 42 kilometers above Earth's surface, almost five times the height of Mount Everest, to set the record for the highest ever skydive, if you can call it a skydive. 

He actually jumped from the upper stratosphere, the second layer of our atmosphere after the troposphere, to land on the Earth's surface near Roswell, New Mexico. His dive broke a two year old record set by Felix Baumgartner, but this was a different kind of dive.

Eustace teamed up with Paragon Space Development, a company that designs space suits and diving suits, to build a self-contained suit for the exploration of the upper atmosphere. And he also got to be the first person to test it.

Before making his ascent, Eustace wore a pressurized suit similar to those worn by astronauts aboard the ISS. He wore it for four hours, breathing pure oxygen, to flush his blood of dissolved gases like nitrogen, to prevent decompression sickness. Then, he connected himself to a helium filled balloon and ascended himself at 300 meters per minute, until after two and a half hours, he reached the upper stratosphere.

He then spent 30 minutes at his peak altitude, just hanging there, looking around. Reportedly, he could actually see the distinct layers of the stratosphere and the troposphere beneath it, while just over his head was the mesosphere, the layer that includes the official transition into space, one hundred kilometers above Earth's surface.

After Eustace had seen enough, he used a small explosive device to detach himself from the balloon, and then fell at around 1,300 kilometers per hour. On his way down, he broke the sound barrier, and created a sonic boom, and he used a small parachute called a drogue chute to keep him from falling any faster. 
The suit also provided thermal protection from air molecules as he fell.

Then, about five and a half kilometers above Earth, he deployed a larger parachute that allowed him to land slowly and safely. Paragon plans on developing more of these suits, to help people explore and research Earth at extra high altitudes.

Gear like this could allow astronauts to exit their vehicles in the upper atmosphere, or even ascend all the way to the threshold of space without the help of spacecraft, much like Eustace did. There's a whole lot to be learned up there.

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