On November 12th mankind made history. After a 10 year journey through the psychedelic void of space, the Rosetta probe successfully landed on a comet, something never done before.
But why all the excitement? Because comets are thought to be remnants from the formation of the solar system, it is hoped that it will unlock further clues about the development of life on Earth.
The comet, called 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, is orbiting the sun at speeds of up to 135,000km/h.
The comet is likened to the size of a mountain, approximately 3.5 km x 4.0 km. The surface of the comet is dusty and icy, with jagged and irregular cliffs erected throughout.
It may be difficult to put the scale of the comet into perspective, so let’s see a comparison of the comet to the relative size of downtown Los Angeles.
Once close enough, Rosetta sent out its lander, named Philae, with high hopes.
Here is a shot taken by Philae only a few kilometers from the comet.
And here is a shot only meters from the surface.
When Philae finally touched down, the ESOC were ecstatic to say the least.
Philae’s landing did not come without stress, however, as one of its thrusters failed causing it to bounce off of the surface. On top of that, the harpoons which were supposed to anchor Philae to the comet failed.
But with 10 years of perseverance behind him, Philae wasn’t going to let anything stop him, and he found a sturdy spot on the comet’s surface.
Here is the first image from the surface.
Here is a full pan of the colossal comet.
More To Come
Philae runs on solar energy, and unfortunately it only receives 1.5 hours of sun light per day. This makes its collection of data slower than we would like. However, patience in space exploration is a mighty virtue. Considering the length of time it took Rosetta to arrive at it’s current destination, scientists aren’t rushing the process.
The ESA is prioritizing the use of Philae’s sensors efficiently to get the most out of the lander’s time.
It’s exciting to think of what this expedition will teach researchers about the origins of life on Earth. Rosetta has already made history by orbiting its target and gathering the most detailed information so far on the composition of the comet’s nucleus, the chemical composition of the gaseous coma surrounding the nucleus, and a detailed surface map of the nucleus.
The comet’s interior is thought to contain the initial composition of the solar system from when it was formed 4.5 billion years ago. These results will help improve models for the solar system and better understand how a planet becomes habitable.
Philae is planned to collect data for years to come, so the excitement is nowhere near finished as of yet. Stay tuned!