Rosetta's Philae Lander Is the First Spacecraft to Land on a Comet
Raucous cheers broke out at the European Space Agency when they received confirmation at 11:03 am that the Rosetta Philae lander successfully landed on a comet. Philae is now the first spacecraft to ever land on a comet.
Watch the live stream of the event below:
The landing marks the end of a 10-year journey to the comet, during which Rosetta has traveled over 4 billion miles. In order to gain enough speed to reach the comet, the probe followed a slingshot trajectory three times around Earth and once around Mars. It reached the comet in August, and has been traveling alongside it ever since. Today, it released a lander called Philae, which physically landed on the comet and released two harpoons in order to anchor itself and gather data.
Now that the Philae lander has touched down, it will take the first ever close-up pictures of a comet's surface. It will stay active for two-and-a-half days, during which time it will also drill into the surface and transmit new information about the comet's composition and the nature of its nucleus. For the next two years, the Rosetta craft will gather data about the comet's behavior at varying distances from the Sun. From this mission, scientists hope to learn more about the origins of comets and stars.
UPDATE: The landing was, indeed, successful, although there was a problem with the deployment of the harpoons. Thus far, the stability of Philae is in question, but the scientists are still cautiously optimistic that this will not have a significant impact on their data collection.
I'm on the surface but my harpoons did not fire. My team is hard at work now trying to determine why. #CometLanding— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014