There is great news from the European Space Agency for the astronomy/astrophysics community this morning as their Rosetta space probe has successfully awoken from its long hibernation and is ready to do some science!

The goal of the Rosetta mission is to be the first man-made device to orbit a comet - in this case Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. If everything goes as planned, the orbiter will then deploy a lander that will park itself on the comet's nucleus, and ride it as it travels into the solar system and around the sun, sending back reams of new data on the properties of comets in both the outer system and closer to the sun.

Although initially approved in 1993 as part of the ESA's Horizons 2000 Science Programme the Rosetta mission took a decade to design and construct, and failure of its Ariadne launch rocket in December 2002 meant the probe didn't start its mission until 2004. Since then, it has spent a decade travelling through the solar system, slingshotting itself off of other solar objects to gain speed, as it heads to its ultimate destination. To conserve energy, it has spent much of that time in a state of suspended animation with scientists on Earth not quite certain if it would ever re-awaken. Today they sent the commands, and it woke up without hesitation.

Now it will head to its target comet, and hopefully soon be beaming back new information. Then for the next two years (it is schedule to shut down again in December 2015, but may last longer if everything goes well) it will provide comet scientists with data on the chemical composition of the nucleus, and photos/video of the surface being melted as it passes the sun. When the mission ends, the probe will be riding the comet out of our solar system once more.

This will be an interesting mission to watch over the next two years, and with luck will provide many new insights into both comets and the solar system itself. And today, the biggest hurdle was overcome.