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Destination: Comet

Destination: Comet


This year, why not make the most of your holiday and head off for a few weeks somewhere really far flung? In the latest installment of our space travelogue series, Josh Davies explores the prospect of holidaying on a comet.  Watch out for the dust.

Of all the holiday destinations possible, taking a trip not only into outer space, but with the intention of holidaying on an object travelling at over 500,000 miles an hour, is quite possibly the most ridiculous prospect ever - give me Aberystwyth any day.

But, should you choose, or more likely, technology advances far enough for you to do such a thing (unfortunately Armageddon was not based on a true story) I suppose I should let you know what you are getting yourself in for...

Choosing your foe
Bright comets that are visible to the naked eye are notoriously difficult to predict. But being the kind of adventurer that visits comets, you would obviously want one of this type. You don’t want to come home and tell your friends that you have just been to C/2006 VZ13; something like Halle Bopp will arouse much more interest. So you must play the waiting game.

Your trip would start as soon as a bright comet is discovered - roughly every 12 years, so you have plenty of time to build up your days off. Luckily for you, a comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been discovered and is expected to come close to earth in seven years. There is already a planned space mission to visit it – perfect hey, just need to hitch a ride and there you are at your dream destination.

What to expect when you land
The whole experience is likely to be highly intimate. Churyumov-Gerasimenko is about two miles wide by three miles long, so it won’t take an age to explore. It’s also only 1.29 AU (119,912,991 miles) from earth, so the journey shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours/years.

It would probably be prudent to take a few warm clothes with you for when you land. Comets are mostly made from ice, but not the usual frozen water kind, oh no. They are composed mostly of frozen CO2, carbon monoxide and methane, so you might want to take a plant along to convert some of that CO2 into more useful oxygen.

As well as ice, you can expect to find plenty of interstellar or ‘Brownlee’ particles which some people think are the original building blocks of the solar system. They may even be as old as it. So there you go – some interesting historical dust to add to your list of tourist attractions.

The major problem with your trip to the comet will be that as the comet approaches the sun it will begin to sublimate (turn from a solid directly to a gas). This is not ideal for the intrepid adventurer; the last thing you want when on holiday is for the ground to disintegrate beneath your feet, leaving you travelling at ridiculous speeds in the middle of outer space towards the sun - no one wants that. It is at this point that you should probably be thinking of leaving...

The return journey
On your way home there will be lots to reflect on; how lucky you’ve been to have cheated death, having the chance to stand on a piece of ice and rock possibly older than the earth, being the first person ever to visit a comet whilst also carrying a pot plant. Sit back and enjoy your return flight, and
make sure you’ve packed plenty of sandwiches/vacuum-
packed dried ice cream, because it might take you a while.

If you like Josh's style, why not try his other recent article, where he considers life from the point of view of a rock...

Or try another destination:
Pluto: party central
Saturn: a journey to test your patience
Venus: mistaken for a UFO



Image: W


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15 May 2011
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