Comet Landing

Hitting a Bullseye on a Moving Target

Rosetta Welcome_to_a_comet
The first image from the Philae probe.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The successful landing of a scientific probe on a speeding comet a half billion kilometers from earth could boost support for research and further missions at the European Space Agency.

  • Facts


    • The Rosetta journey took 12 years and used the gravitational fields of several planets for propulsion.
    • Rosetta’s Philae probe landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which orbits the sun every 6.5 years.
    • Mission scientists at 2p.m. CET today will announce whether Philae survived the landing intact.
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Throughout history, the sighting of a comet was often seen as a sign of doom.

But this week, when scientists at the European Space Agency’s mission headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, landed a probe on a distant, speeding comet, the news was greeted with delight.

The European agency on Wednesday confirmed that its probe, called Philae, had successfully detached from the Rosetta space craft and was heading towards Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko 510 million kilometers (316 million miles) from Earth.

In dramatic photos released Thursday morning in Europe, Philae’s camera, developed in Germany, took vivid images of an otherworldly landscape of curved mesas and cliffs, highlighted against the naked illumination of the sun millions of miles away.

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