Touchdown! Spacecraft Lands on a Comet

Image of Comet 67P taken by the spacecraft Rosetta. (Image:ESA)
Image of Comet 67P taken by the spacecraft Rosetta. (Image:ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) celebrated a first-ever achievement after landing a spacecraft on the surface of a comet.  The ESA spent 10 years planning and building the spacecraft before launching it on a decade-long trip to Comet 67P, where the Rosetta spacecraft successfully deployed its robotic lander, known as Philae, on its surface.

It was a historic landing on a comet, but unfortunately, not a smooth one.

Philae’s two harpoons did not fire to fasten the craft down in the ultra-low gravity. Scientists think the lander may have bounced twice after first coming into contact with the surface. It is also lodged against a high cliff face that is blocking sunlight to its solar panels.  This means that there may be insufficient sunlight to recharge its battery system.

The awkward landing means Philae also won’t be able to use its scientific drill to take samples of the comet. Still, there are 9 other instruments, including one that will analyze the gases given off to build up a picture of the comet’s composition. Another instrument will reveal the comet’s internal structure by passing radio waves through the icy body to the orbiting Rosetta.


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