Wednesday, November 12, 2014

We Just Landed on a Comet

Philae shortly after released from Rosetta, on it's way to the comet.
This morning scientists at the European Space Agency received a signal from the Rosetta spacecraft saying that Philae, a washing machine-sized lander, had successfully landed on a comet! 

Rosetta and Philae traveled 4 billion miles in ten years to catch the comet. The comet and spacecraft are now only so far away that it takes 30 minutes before a radio signal from Philae reaches earth. (From a quick calculation using the speed of light, the comet is now only 300 million miles away. Someone check to see if that is right.) In comparison, it only takes 15 minutes before we receive a signal from the Mars rovers.

Rosetta arrived at the comet in August and has been orbiting the comet the last two months looking for a good location for Philae to land. The comet, known as 67P/Churyumon-Gerasimenko (named after those who discovered it), was discovered  in 1969. (If you are interested in learning more about discovering comets and planets, I would suggest reading How I Killed Pluto and why it had it coming, by Mike Brown.)

One of the biggest surprises from the Rosetta mission so far is how irregularly shaped the comet really is...

This scientific and engineering feat is of equal magnitude as walking on the moon, driving rovers on Mars, orbiting Titan, crashing probes into Venus, living on a space station, gazing through telescopes, and flying into deep space,!

Just how big is this comet? About the size of a Federation Space Dock...
Philae isn't quite the size of a pixel in this image. 

Highlights from the European Space Agency:

How it worked:

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