The Philae lander has become the first ever spacecraft to land safely on a comet after travelling through space for more than ten years and covering a distance of some 4 billion miles.
Rosetta mission’s safe landing gives scientists their first chance to ride a comet and study close up what happens as it gets closer to the sun
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• See the historic landing in pictures
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Watch the complete video of its journey, cost, how it lost and found later…
Rosetta’s success will illuminate the origins of life – it’s a billion well spent
The comet 67P is a relic from the solar system’s birth: studying it will offer insight into Earth’s beginnings – and could avert future collisions
The signal broke a seven-hour wait of agonising intensity and sparked scenes of jubilation at the European Space Agency’s mission control in Darmstadt. The team in charge of the Rosetta mission achieved what at times seemed an impossible task by landing a robotic spacecraft on a comet for the first time in history.
The £1bn ($1.58bn) Rosetta mission aims to unlock the mysteries of comets, made from ancient material that predates the birth of the solar system. In the data Rosetta and Philae collect, researchers hope to learn more of how the solar system formed and how comets carried water and complex organics to the planets, preparing the stage for life on Earth.
This is all very exciting. For the first time we have managed to land a spacecraft on a comet, and congratulations are in order to everyone involved.
The European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta has been approaching a comet called 67P for the past few months, and recently descended into near orbit – just six miles away, or as far away as a small jet aircraft flies above the Earth.
The mission was agreed more than 20 years ago: the journey has taken just over 10 years, covering a distance of 4bn miles – that’s a million times the distance to the centre of the Earth, or the equivalent of eight thousand return trips to the moon. The journey involved “swinging by” Mars once and the Earth three times, each time gaining a gravitational shove in the right direction, and also a hibernation period of two and a half years to conserve energy. Along the way, Rosetta has studied two planets, two comets and two asteroids.
Today its lander Philae successfully touched down on the comet, using a harpoon or two to attach itself to the surface to avoid bouncing off into the vastness of space again.
Rosetta is about the size of a minibus, with the two solar panels that power it each being about the length of four cars. Philae is about as big and heavy as a washing machine.
The comet itself is about as big as a mountain: 2.5 miles wide and around 2.3 miles high. If placed on Earth it would be taller than Mount Fuji (see graphic below), although early images of the 67P lent themselves to more unusual comparisons: apparently fused from two separate icy bodies, the comet was most often compared to a rubber duck.
Rosetta and Philae have also sent back their first images to Earth – although none from the surface of the comet. Instead they took snaps of one another as the lander detached from its parent craft.