Wednesday November 12, 2014

World News Wednesday: Comet Landing

67PEarlier today, the European Space Agency (ESA) made history as they successfully landed the Philae lander on Comet 67P, located at a distance of about 510 million kilometers from Earth. Launced in 2004 when Facebook was ~27 days old, the Rosetta spacecraft reached its destination in August, marking it the first spacecraft to orbit a comet nucleus. Philae is the first controlled touchdown of a spacecraft on a comet nucleus, and it will relay valuable data about the comet's composition as it slingshots around the sun next August. Comets are important to study as previous missions have shown that comets contain complex organic compounds, possibly providing some clues as to how life originated on Earth. 

The Philae mission experienced several hiccups - from the harpoons not firing, to the cold-gas thruster failing, Philae's bouncy landing leaves many questions unanswered about the mission's longevity. At the start of the mission last night, the lander did not switch on properly at first, but then a restart of the system proved that turning machines off and on again tends to do the trick.

No matter what happens, the lander has already sent back excellent scientific data, and it is undoubtedly a success.

See more pictures from the mission here, and learn about Philae's mission and scientific instruments here. Congratulations to the ESA!

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