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SPACE

We’ve Landed on a Comet!

November 12th, 2014

Comet C-G taken by Philae via European Space Agency, November 12, 2014 on Twitter!

Wow, wow, wow. A spacecraft landed on a comet today for the first time ever!

This is history in the making and no easy task. The comet is hurtling through space at 40,000 miles per hour! And we sent the spacecraft up TEN years ago so it could land on it today!

“It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface,” according to the European Space Agency, in charge of this mission. (No people on board, it’s an unmanned mission).

The spacecraft is named Rosetta. The little lander that detached from Rosetta, and is about he size of a dishwasher, is named Philae. The comet is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (though most people call it Comet C-G).

Here’s an animation (not the actual landing) of what they were anticipating it would be like:

Even though the landing was successful, ground control is trying to work out some issues. The harpoons didn’t work properly. They help keep the lander attached to the comet and make sure it’s not sliding around (especially since there’s not much gravity). There were some problems with the rockets as well.

A little refresher : A comet is a little like a huge rocky, dirty, icy ball that orbits the Sun. Comet C-G orbits the Sun every 6.6 years. As comets get closer to the Sun, some of that ice turns into gas. That’s the “tail” part of the comet.

Comet C-G was discovered about 40 years ago and was named after the two scientists who found it.

Rosetta got near Comet C-G in August and has spent much of the time until now figuring out where to land. Comet C-G turns out to be shaped a little like a rubber duck with cliffs as well as boulders the size of houses. Surprise!

Even before the landing, scientists were able to analyze what the comet smells like. Think  horse pee and rotten eggs . Charming.

The landing is just the beginning. The main goal is to learn more about comets, which can in turn help us better understand life on Earth and the origins of the Universe.

That’s actually the reason the mission is called Rosetta, after the famous stone found in 1799 in Rosetta (Egypt) that helped us decode Egyptian hieroglyphics, which in turn helped us better understand Ancient Egypt, one of the great civilizations of the world.

Scientists are hoping this mission will hold the key to answering questions about how life on Earth came to be. Or, as the website Vox put it, “data collected by a tiny robot on this lopsided, spinning comet, millions of miles away, could provide a window into the history of all life on earth.”

This is a super animation of the path Rosetta traveled on the European Space Agency’s website .

And this is an amazing explanation of comets and the touchdown … out of LEGO! Genius!

Finally, here is a great list of answers to more questions you may have, provided by the European Space Agency .

A great day for humanity out in space!

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