Speed Reads

The final frontier

Watch live as the Rosetta spacecraft tries to orbit a shooting comet

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft has spent the last 10 years chasing down a comet hurtling through space at about 34,000 mile per hour — and if everything goes as planned on Wednesday morning, Rosetta will catch her prey.

At about 4:45 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday, Rosetta is projected to catch up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and maneuver to enter into orbit around the comet — a first for human space exploration. The key event will be an engine burn expected to last about 6.5 minutes. You can watch live, via this ESA livestream:

Since launching from French Guiana in 2004, Rosetta has traveled four billion miles, taken samples from two asteroids, and zoomed close to the Earth, Mars, and Jupiter. Its ultimate goal is to send its lander, Philae, to the surface of the 2.5-mile-wide Comet 67P in November and gather samples for earthlings to analyze. ESA scientists want to study the possibility that comets crashing into the Earth in its early years deposited the organic material from which all life sprung.

If you want to learn more about Rosetta's historic mission, The Week has this primer and Space.com has a helpful infographic.