Spacecraft lands on comet 4 billion miles away
Spacecraft lands on comet 4 billion miles away An artist's concept of Comet Siding Spring approaching Mars, shown with NASA's orbiters preparing to make science observations of this unique encounter. The Rosetta space probe appears at left (Reuters / NASA / ESA)
Spacecraft lands on comet 4 billion miles away
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Hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, a spacecraft made history Wednesday. It landed on the icy, dusty surface of a speeding comet. It was an audacious cosmic first designed to answer big questions about the origin of the universe.

Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations for the European Space Agency, said the landing on the comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appeared to have been almost perfect.

"Everyone cried," he said.

The European Space Agency celebrated the cosmic achievement. The agency had sweated through a tense seven-hour countdown. It began when the Philae lander dropped from the agency's Rosetta space probe as both it and the comet hurtled through space at 41,000 mph.

ESA controllers clapped and embraced at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. That came after the Rosetta space probe had successfully released the 220-pound, washing machine-sized Philae lander.

During the descent, scientists were powerless to do anything but watch. That's because the vast distance to Earth, 311 million miles, made it impossible to send instructions in real time.

Finally, the agency received a signal from Philae. It had touched down on the comet's icy surface.

"We definitely confirm that the lander is on the surface," said flight director Andrea Accomazzo.

Further checks are needed to ascertain the state of the lander. But the fact that it is resting on the surface of the comet is already a huge success. It is the highlight of a decade-long mission to study comets.

Scientists want to learn more about the origins of these celestial bodies. They have likened the trillion or so comets in our solar system to time capsules. That's because they are virtually unchanged since the earliest moments of the universe.

"By studying one in enormous detail, we can hope to unlock the puzzle of all of the others," said Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientific adviser to the mission.

Rosetta and Philae now plan to accompany the comet as it races past the sun and becomes increasingly active in the rising temperatures.

"The science starts the minute we get down to the ground," McCaughrean said.

The landing capped a 4 billion-mile journey that began a decade ago. Rosetta was launched in 2004. It had to slingshot three times around Earth and once around Mars before it could work up enough speed to chase down the comet. Rosetta and the comet have been traveling in tandem ever since.

The mission will also give researchers the opportunity to test the theory that comets brought organic matter and water to Earth billions of years ago. That's according to Klim Churyumov, one of the two astronomers who discovered the comet in 1969.

The lander's batteries are expected to last just 64 hours. But that should be enough for scientists to gather a huge wealth of data. In addition, the lander has a solar panel that should be able to provide an hour's worth of battery life each day.

The lander should remain stuck to the comet forever, even after its systems have shut down.

Critical thinking challenge: Why was Rosetta launched in 2004, yet only landed this week?

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Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/teen/spacecraft-lands-comet-4-billion-miles-away/

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COMMENTS (153)
  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    11/14/2014 - 02:45 p.m.

    It must have been such an amazing achievement to see this space craft land on a comet! Working for NASA is cool, but working on an awesome project like this is even cooler. One item on my bucket list is to take a tour of NASA sometime. I hope i can achieve it.

  • NickB-2
    11/16/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    This article is about the probe Philae which was landed on a comet. On Wednesday, the probe was successfully dropped and attached onto the comet, creating history in the scienticket and astronomical world. This comet lander can help us answer many questions about the origin of the universe. I think that this is a truly incredible feat.

  • NickB-2
    11/16/2014 - 01:03 p.m.

    This article is about the probe Philae which was landed on a comet. On Wednesday, the probe was successfully dropped and attached onto the comet, creating history in the scienticket and astronomical world. This comet lander can help us answer many questions about the origin of the universe. I think that this is a truly incredible feat.

  • jonahh-Koc
    11/16/2014 - 11:45 p.m.

    Rosetta was launched in 2004 but finally landed now in 2014. It took it 10 years due to the fact that its so far away. It traveled 4 billion miles at 40,000 mph. This just shows how crazy far this is from earth.

  • mattf-Koc
    11/17/2014 - 01:33 a.m.

    This is a truly amazing accomplishment. The fact that this project was launched in 2004 and has just now landed makes it all the more satisfying. I wonder what information they will gather from the comet. Who knows maybe we will finally learn how we got to Earth.

  • GabrielL7
    11/17/2014 - 02:48 p.m.

    I think that this story was very interesting;I didn't even know that a space probe could acctually go into
    space and somehow just land with ease on a speeding 41,000mph comet and just stay there.... I find this
    story very educational and informative i must say that this story was vey catchy !

  • 3OWenG
    11/18/2014 - 12:56 p.m.

    This is really cool. The landing could solve the mystery of how earth got life. The probe has 63 hours of battery life which should give it enough time to send a lot of data back to earth. And they put solar panels on it so it will get an hour of battery life every day. This landing will change history. I belive that any old ideas of how earth got water and life will be "thrown away" because the comet will give us new data to prove new theories.

  • 1NolanG
    11/18/2014 - 06:27 p.m.

    Philae, a space craft launched from Earth to a comet 311 million miles away. It was launched by European Space, in 2004. It took about a decade, for this small little craft, going 41,000 mph, to reach the commit. It even had to go around Earth three times and Mars once to get enough speed, then slingshot out of orbit. The point of reaching the commit was to study it and figure out if commits truly did deliver organic matter and water to Earth, and start-up its life. Commits are also believed to be relatively unchanged since the beginning of the Milky Way.
    -5 Ws response, Nolan Goodman

  • shannons-Koc
    11/18/2014 - 08:19 p.m.

    The reason Rosetta has recently landed on a comet and not back when it was first launched in 2004 is because this spacecraft has traveled over 4 billion miles! This is an outstanding moment in history. There is many discoveries to be made from this. Rosetta could be the key to revealing something huge in space. Space is very complex and what we know is very little to what lies beyond our universe. Something like this opens a door to what we don't know.

  • alexh-Bea
    11/19/2014 - 02:51 p.m.

    This is a big step in human inovention. Many poeple think this is a good thing while other do not like the idea. We could find very important discorveries to the world.

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