NASA scientist to present talk on Rosetta Mission

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Photo of Dr. Essam Heggy.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—A member of the science team for the European Space Agency's Rosetta Mission will be at Western Michigan University this month to present a talk on the successful first mission to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the sun and deploy a lander to its surface.

Making the presentation will be Dr. Essam Heggy, a research scientist in the Radar Science Group at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a visiting associate in geology at the California Institute of Technology.

He will present "The Rosetta Mission: The Historic Moment in Modern Space Exploration" from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, in the Fetzer Center's Kirsch Auditorium. A reception will follow in the atrium lobby.

Heggy is a member of the science team of the CONSERT radar experiment on board the Rosetta mission. He will be taking a faculty position in WMU's Department of Geosciences this August.

The Rosetta spacecraft has found that the water vapor from its target comet is significantly different than water found on Earth, fueling the debate on the origin of Earth's oceans. The discovery has led scientists to rule out the idea that Jupiter-family comets—comets thought to have formed in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune—contain solely Earth ocean-like water. This finding adds weight to models that place more emphasis on asteroids as the main delivery mechanism for Earth's oceans.

The Rosetta Mission

Rosetta is a European Space Agency mission with contributions from its member states as well as NASA. It was launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Aug. 6, 2014. The mission's Philae robotic lander bounced twice Nov. 12 before settling on the comet's surface, albeit in a shaded spot that didn't allow its solar batteries to be recharged.

However, Philae completed its primary science mission before running out of battery power after about 64 hours. It delivered a full set of results that are now being analyzed, returning all of its housekeeping data as well as science data from targeted instruments that include ROLIS, COSAC, Ptolemy, SD2 and CONSERT.

Thanks to a rotating maneuver before Philae lost power, officials hope that at a later stage of the mission, perhaps when the comet is nearer to the sun, enough solar illumination might reach the lander to wake it up and allow communication to be re-established.

Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter is continuing to follow and study the comet as it becomes more active while moving toward its closest encounter with the sun in August. The mission will draw to a close in December 2015, when both the spacecraft and the comet will have circled the sun and be on their way out of the inner solar system.

Essam Heggy

Heggy's main science interests are in the area of planetary geophysics and cover Mars, the moon, icy satellites and near-Earth objects. His research at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory involves probing structural, hydrological and volcanic elements in terrestrial and planetary environments.

Heggy conducts that research using different types of radar imaging and sounding techniques as well as by measuring the electromagnetic properties of different ices and rocks in the radar frequency range.

In addition to Rosetta, Heggy is a member of the science team of the MARSIS instrument aboard the Mars Express orbiter, the Mini-SAR experiment aboard Chandrayaan-1 and the Mini-RF experiment on board the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

He also is a contributing scientist to several proposed planetary and terrestrial radar imaging and soundings experiments, and he participated in several NASA radar mission concept designs at JPL.

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