Touchdown! Philae lands on Comet

At 16:03 GMT, Earth received a signal confirming that the Philae probe has successfully landed on a moving comet 510 km from Earth.

This extraordinary achievement was preceded by a tense seven hour descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, including confirmation that the thrusters were not active, increasing the risk of the lander bouncing back into outer space.

The Rosetta orbiter relayed the information to Earth and it was picked up by the European Space Agency’s ground station in Malargue, Argentina as well as NASA’s station in Madrid, Spain.

Scientists cheered and embraced each other as the signals were received, then hastily focused once again on their computer screens as news broke that the harpoons to fasten the lander to the comet surface, had not fired. Scientists now think that the probe may have bounced after first coming into contact with the surface.

This spectacular achievement for space technology will give scientists the chance to ride a comet, and study what happens to the comet as it travels closer to the sun.

This is not the first time scientists have sent probes to a comet, but it is the first time a probe has landed.

Matt Taylor, a Rosetta project scientist was so confident the comet land was going to be successful, that he tattooed Philae landing on the comet onto his thigh.

See European Space Agency’s magnificent pictures, listen to the final media briefing or read the Guardian’s article about the landing and what it means for the future of science.

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Rosetta space probe attempts to land on a comet

An unmanned Rosetta space probe is attempting to successfully land on comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after travelling for over ten years.

Separation
Today, at 08.35GMT, the European Space Agency attempted to achieve a first for space exploration, by placing a robot on a moving comet, a mere 510 million km from Earth.

 

The Rosetta satellite released a spacecraft, the Philae lander, towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is a large mass of ice and dust, with the aim of finding out more information about these mysterious relics from the formation of our Solar System.

Following a rough night of many critical decisions, Rosetta and Philae have been cleared for separation. This follows the late night discovery that the active descent system, with the aim of providing thrust to avoid rebound during touchdown, cannot be activated.

Not only is the mission difficult due to the distance the spacecraft has to travel, but there are several obstacles, including a 4km-wide ice mountain, and the risk that Philae could just bounce back into space.

At touchdown, Philae will deploy landing gear, including foot screws and harpoons to attempt to fasten its position, but this will all be more difficult.

The complex descent to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will take approximately seven hours, and a confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected around 17.02 GMT.

Jean- Pierre Bibring, lead lander scientist said “We’re anxious but excited, it’s not every day that we try to land on a comet.”

Amongst millions of other science nerds, I will be watching the live stream avidly, and I’ll be updating my blog and twitter when more information is released.

In the mean time, follow the excellent tweets from the Rosetta space probe or the Philae lander!