By Robin Alcantara |Staff Writer|
The European Space Agency (ESA) accomplished a historical landing of a probe on a comet moving at 83,885 miles per hour on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.
“This is the first time humans have landed something on a comet,” stated Dr. Laura Woodney in an e-mail, CSUSB physics and chemistry of comets associate professor. “This is an amazing feat of engineering.”
The Rosetta-Philae mission was launched on March 2, 2004 from a European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
Rosetta chased Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for 10 years before releasing the probe, Philae, for a seven hour drop to the surface of the comet.
Philae is designed to drill the surface of the comet and send information about the comet’s components back to earth.
“There is so much we do not know about how comets work and what they are made of,” stated Woodney. “Comets could be one of the primary original sources of water on Earth and learning about their composition will tell us more about the history of the Earth.”
The landing of Philae did not go exactly as planned, reported space.com.
As the lander approached the surface of the comet, its harpoons failed to operate and did not release to attach Philae to Comet 67P. Lack of gravity allowed the probe to bounce twice before coming to a stop.
The ESA reported that the exact location of Philae is unknown, but it is assumed to be in a crater or in the shadow of a cliff.
According to the ESA, Philae did get to work immediately and started collecting data, which was sent to the ESA before the primary battery power on the probe ran out.
The Independent reported that Philae had a primary battery life of about 64 hours.
Philae is equipped with solar panels to recharge using sunlight.
Secondary battery life was scheduled to come from the six to eight hours of sunlight that were estimated to touch on the original landing site.
However he current location of the lander is preventing it from getting more than a couple hours of sunlight a day, reported Space News.
As recharging occurs, Philae will communicate with the ESA.
The ESA expects the lander will “sleep” more often than planned until the comet carries it closer to the sun in the next few months.
Philae is equipped with 10 scientific instruments that will collect, detect, analyze and report information back to ESA.
Philae holds a significant importance to the scientific community because of what it could reveal about earth and the solar system.
“Comets have spent most of their history of the solar system frozen and far from the sun, too small to have significant internal heat that would alter their chemistry,” stated Woodney. “So they are literally pieces leftover from 4.5 billion years ago that can tell us what the chemistry of the solar system was like when it was formed.”
Discovered in 1969 by astronomers Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, Comet 67P, also known as Comet C-G, has an orbit around the sun of about six and a half years and originated from the Kuiper Belt on the outer region of the solar system.
The mission is scheduled to come to an end in December 2015.