They did it! 10 Years in Orbit and 2 Billion dollars later, the landing is successful and confirmed. Now comes the fun part: The resulting Science!!!
The first image that was beamed through 28 ad a half light minutes showed the lander on its descent, about 3km from the surface.
The landing wasn’t perfect though. In fact it may have ‘landed twice.’ The 4km wide comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko doesn’t have enough gravity to keep the lander from flying out into space, which is why Philae was equipped with a harpoon system to lock it in place on the surface.
Yesterday I mentioned the retro rocket booster on the back of Philae, which would have ensured its stability and pushed it against the comet to help it lock in. Unfortunately the rocket wasn’t working, and current data suggests that the lander actually ‘bounced’ and rotated a bit before finally settling on the surface.
The Rosetta mission will continue through August 2015 as the comet makes its closest approach to the Sun. This will allow scientists to study how the comet changes as it reaches perihelion and begins to ‘melt’ under the harsh rays of the Sun.
Why does this matter? Comets can give us insights into the formation of our solar system, as they have remained nearly unchanged in the last 4.6 Billion Years. They also give us insights into how water ended up on Earth. Comets were more plentiful in the early solar system and may have bombarded Earth, giving us the large supply of water we find on our damp home.
This landing is historic, even if it did bounce a few times. It really shows what the world can do when we work together as one planet.
It sure was a close call. More on the story as data comes in.