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
Lexile

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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COMMENTS (162)
  • JB2001Doge
    11/13/2014 - 08:38 a.m.

    I know, this is the biggest science project ever made... This is the first time a robot has ever landed on a comet... The news and science classes talked about this.

  • nicot-Kin
    11/13/2014 - 09:33 a.m.

    I liked this article very much. I love learning amount space I find space very interesting. Planets are very cool to study. I've done a lot of research about space and planets. I liked this article very much.

  • aleahd-Kin
    11/13/2014 - 09:35 a.m.

    I have heard of this on the 5:00 news it is very cool and this paragraph is very well wrote I really like this the coolest story ever but that is a very long way 4 311 million miles wow.

  • johnnys-Kin
    11/13/2014 - 09:36 a.m.

    Winch is further the Comet or the sun and I feel bad that the person landed on the comet four billion miles away and is he still alive.

  • gabbyh-Kin
    11/13/2014 - 09:37 a.m.

    I like the fact that they could put a spacecraft on a comet that's really cool. I also like the detail they put into the article.

  • markro-Kin
    11/13/2014 - 10:05 a.m.

    The spacecraft, Rosetta, launched in 2004 and landed this week because the comet that the spacecraft was going to land on is 4 billion miles away from Earth. Also because the comet was going 41,000 mph.

  • erica634
    11/13/2014 - 10:50 a.m.

    This topic has a lot to do with science. First off it takes place in space, and has to do with space crafts and what such. Also it has alot of measures in it. Also this article talks about a comet.

  • 2asht0n
    11/13/2014 - 10:58 a.m.

    This is amazing! I'm not a huge science fan,but I know about Nasa a little and this just took them to a whole new level! I thought this couldn't be done,but Nasa proved me wrong. I wouldn't be surprised if they invented a ship that can go anywhere in the galaxy like in Star Wars.

  • ErikaCzekaj
    11/13/2014 - 10:58 a.m.

    The topic " Spacecraft lands on Coment 4 billion miles away" is related by science because its talking about space. It's about the planets and solar panel. It includes the Newtons Laws too!

  • Hugh12345678901234567890123456
    11/13/2014 - 12:03 p.m.

    I heard about this on the news yesterday. The last probe got little data by simply crashing into it. But to land on one is amazing. I imagine that comet would be going pretty fast. With the probe landed on it, they can get information that could be clues to the future universe.

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