Rosetta to attempt first ever comet landing later today

Posted on 12 Nov 2014 by Tim Brown

Excited astronomers and scientists are preparing for the first-ever comet landing with the Rosetta Philae probe preparing to touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko later today.

Described as a “100-kilogram science lab” which has been travelling through space on the Rosetta for more than a decade, the Philae probe is designed to detach from Rosetta and land gently on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The attempt is certainly no mean feat with the comet currently located more than half a billion kilometres from Earth and racing towards the Sun at speeds of up to 135,000km/h (83,000mph).

As the comet is so small, the 100kg mass translates to only a few hundred grams of weight due to the weak gravity of the comet. According to workers on the project, it is hoped that the landing will be like “dropping a rubber ball on a hard surface” with harpoons to be deployed upon landing to secure the probe to the surface.

Stay tuned: TM will provide updates on the progress of the landing throughout the day.

10:00GMT – 12/11/2014
As scheduled the Philae lander separated from the Rosetta orbiter just after 08:30 GMT, and is now on its way to becoming the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet.

Separation was confirmed at ESA’s Space Operation Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany at 09:03 GMT. It takes the radio signals from the transmitter on Rosetta 28 minutes and 20 seconds to reach Earth, so separation actually occurred in space at 08:35 GMT.

The first signal from Philae is expected in around an hour, when the lander establishes a communication link with Rosetta, which will then relay the messages to Earth.

An artists impression of the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Image ESA.
An artists impression of the Philae lander on the surface of the comet. Image and videos courtesy of ESA .

The descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will take around seven hours, during which the lander will take measurements of the environment around the comet. It will also take images of the final moments of descent.

Confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected between 15:00 GMT and 17:00 GMT with the first image from the surface is expected some two hours later.

A live webcast from mission control, which will begin at 19:00 GMT, will be available here and will cover crucial mission milestones overnight tonight and through Wednesday.

16.00 GMT – 12/11/2014

The world is poised for the expected touchdown at 16:02 GMT.

16.04 GMT – 12/11/2014

The team celebrates, patting one another on the back as the Philae lander successfully touches down on the comet.

16.43 GMT – According to representatives, a stable landing on the comet has not been confirmed, there still remains some “problems with anchoring”. However, they “don’t give up hope and look forward to the first pictures expected within the hour.”

Background on the Rosetta mission
The mission is named after the Rosetta Stone, a slab of volcanic basalt found near the Egyptian town of Rashid (Rosetta) in 1799. The stone revolutionised our understanding of the past. By comparing the three carved inscriptions on the stone (written in two forms of Egyptian and Greek), historians were able to decipher the mysterious hieroglyphics – the written language of ancient Egypt. As a result of this breakthrough, scholars were able to piece together the history of a lost culture.

The Rosetta Stone provided the key to an ancient civilisation. ESA’s Rosetta mission will allow scientists to unlock the mysteries of the oldest building blocks of our Solar System: comets.