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European Space Agency Probe Lands on a Comet…Twice

12 Nov 2014, 3:44 pm


The Rosetta Spacecraft, which is owned by the European Space Agency, did something unprecedented on Wednesday. It sent a probe to land on the surface of a comet.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured a place in the history books: Not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a lander to a comet’s surface,” noted Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General in a press release from ESA.

But the process didn’t go off without a hitch. According to USA Today, the washing machine-sized probe known as Philae failed to properly fire two harpoon-like anchors into the comet’s sandy surface.

Rosetta, the parent spacecraft, reported the probe landed hard on one of the legs and softly on the other two. The probe then bounced ever so slightly, rotated a bit and landed a second time. The probe is now resting on the comet, but isn’t as secured well as engineers would like.

Be that as it may, The Guardian is reporting scientific data is being sent back to Earth; a sign many of the probes instruments are functioning properly.

Rosetta lost contact with the probe as it sank below the horizon of the comet. As the probe rotates with the comet a link will be reestablished and scientific data — along with pictures from the surface of the comet — will be beamed back to Earth.

Philae’s main purpose is to better understand the composition of the comet and the probe will undertake two phases of research, primary and secondary. “Science highlights from the primary phase will include a full panoramic view of the landing site, including a section in 3D, high-resolution images of the surface immediately underneath the lander, on-the-spot analysis of the composition of the comet’s surface materials, and a drill that will take samples from a depth of 23 cm and feed them to an on-board laboratory for analysis,” the ESA said in a press release.

The secondary phase of the mission will study the comet as it makes its approach to the sun, when it becomes more “active.” Looking at the electrical and mechanical components of the surface.

The Rosetta Spacecraft was launched in 2004 and spent more than 10 years traversing hundreds of millions of miles to reach it’s destination. The probes will stay with the comet as it makes its closest approach to the sun in August of 2015 — roughly halfway between the orbits of Earth and Mars.

WeatherNation will be keeping any eye on the mission, in the coming months and bring you updates as they become available.

Check out some of the cool images tweeted by the Rosetta and Philae’s hilarious twitter accounts.

Meteorologist Alan Raymond

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