The European Space Mission has successfully landed a probe on a moving Comet some 300 million miles away from Earth
The 25 year project came to fruition after a tense 7 hour wait to hear a transmission from the Philae probe. Mission control erupted into cheers and tears of joy as a signal reached Earth at ~1600GMT on the 12th November 2014. This is the First time in human history astronomers have landed a probe on a moving comet.
The European Space Mission will go down in the history books for succeeding in the challenge of landing a probe on a moving target. Their accomplishment is equally as impressive as putting a man on the moon.
First Comet Landing An Impressive Feat For The Human Race
Satellites and probes have been sent to previous comets, but none to actually land and run experiments on a comet flying at 34,000 miles per hour through space and traveled 3.5 billion miles to land on a moving target on a surface scientist had little idea about.
The ingenuity and feats that have been accomplished in this 25 year project in discovery and knowledge will no doubt push the human race even further in it’s understand of the universe.
Comet Landing Not All Smooth Sailing
The mission hasn’t been without it’s problems on landing the probe bounced twice off the surface. Philae hit the surface and bounced 1km into space taking it almost 2 hrs to get back to the comet and then bounced again for 7 minutes before landing in the shadow of a cliff. The Probe has landed in a dark rocky area where there is not much sunlight, not good news for the solar batteries that need charging by the sun.
Philae Landed in the Dark
If Bouncing off solid rock wasn’t harrowing enough for mission control the drama continued when Philae landed in the shadow of a cliff, meaning scientist might have limited time to run their experiments before the solar batteries run out of power.
The batteries on the probe have just 64 hours of power and scientist will have to decide whether to move Philae to a better position or to keep it where it is.
Keeping the robot in it’s current position means scientist will only get ~64 hours worth of data and the solar panel will only be charged by sunlight for 1-2 hrs and not the 6-7 hours the batteries would have been exposed to had the probe landed on the chosen landing site.
Scientist have the option of moving the probe using it’s arm that is designed to dig into the ground, but it could be used to shift the probe. Moving the Probe has it’s own pitfalls the weak gravitational pull of the comet could mean the probe is pushed into space or that it could bounce around and end up falling in a fissure on the comets surface.
The Bad News Doesn’t Stop There For The Rosetta Mission
The probe was to fix itself to the comet by two mechanisms on landing. Anchors where to screw the probe onto the surface of the comet and harpoons to drive deeper into the comets surface to keep it secure. The anchors worked, but the harpoons seem to have failed.
After bouncing off of the surface the position the robot has landed in is precarious, although upright one of it’s legs isn’t touching the surface which means it’s only anchored to the ground with two of it’s three feet.
With a low gravitational pull on the comet and traveling at 34,000 miles per hour on a spinning rock, fingers are crossed Philae will stay in place.
To Drill Or Not To Drill
Using the drill on the probe could also be a risk, although the drill is designed to pull Philae closer to the surface any jolt could send the probe flying off the rock and into space.
About The Rosetta Mission – What Scientist Hope to Find
The Rosetta Mission set off on it’s mission in 2004 and is using 1990’s technology to achieve it’s goals on the comet 67P, traveling 3.5 billion miles through space it’s been a 25 year mission for many of the scientist the Rosetta project has been their life’s work. For years scientists have speculated that Earth could have been seeded with water and organic matter from comets more than 4 billion year old. Scientist hope to find evidence of water and or organic matter in the rock samples Philae will analyses on the 67P’s surface.
Photo: Copyright ESA