Humanity has made another “small step, giant leap” milestone in space today, as the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Philae probe successfully touched down on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, also known as 67P/C–G. The achievement marks the first time in history that a man-made vehicle has made a comet landing.
The mission is the culmination of a 10-year project, during which time the Philae probe was carried out to 67P/C-G by a spacecraft called Rosetta, according to CNN.
Earlier today, the Inquisitr reported on a touch-and-go moment when the probe’s thruster system did not respond to attempts to “prime” them. Without working thrusters, it was feared the vehicle could ricochet off the comet’s surface, sending it tumbling off into space.
Despite the setback, Philae was able to separate from Rosetta and make the final leg of its lonely and risky journey to its destination.
As reported by the Washington Post, there were tense moments when ESA mission control awaited communications from Philae. Due to the fact that the probe is over 300 million miles away, there is a 28-minute delay that must be endured while waiting for new information from the craft. Because of the thruster failure, Philae had to rely only on special harpoon hooks and screws on its feet to secure it to the comet’s surface.
When news came of the landing, ESA personnel and their American partners from NASA were understandably elated. There are still concerns, however, that the probe’s harpoons and screws may not have securely attached the device to the comet. Despite the fact that Philae weighs 220 pounds, the gravity on an object the size of the comet is so weak that there’s still a risk that the probe could lose its connection to the surface.
Now that Philae has arrived on 67P/C–G, it will begin conducting experiments, in order to determine what elements make up the body of the comet. Scientists are curious to learn more about how comets interact with the particles stars like the sun send out into space, a phenomenon known as the “solar wind.”
University of Bern in Switzerland’s Kathrin Altwegg, a lead researcher for the ambitious project, is expectant when it comes to learning more about the composition of the comet.
“It’s a look at the basic building blocks of our solar system, the ancient materials from which life emerged… It’s like doing archaeology, but instead of going back 1,000 years, we can go back 4.6 billion.”
What do you think of the historic Philae comet landing? Do you think this occasion marks a new chapter in human space exploration?
[Images via phys.org and CNN]