One of 2014’s most important space-related events took place on November 12. A team of space-eager scientists sent a small probe by the name of Philea to a faraway comet –67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Despite the rough landing, the project is believed to be one of the most significant steps in space exploration since the Moon landings in 1969. This was the first time scientists landed a probe on a comet.
For the mission to be successful, the mothership (Rosetta) had to travel approximately 6.5 billion kilometers over the course of 10 years. As it reached the comet, Rosetta’s landing sparked lots of cheers, but only to be quickly replaced by suspense. When released from the mothership, the probe touched down on the 4km-wide comet but not before bouncing back twice.
As a result, Philea landed with a side in the shadow of a cliff, thus disabling its solar panels, restricting them from getting the necessary sunlight to recharge the batteries. The probe’s broadcast lasted about 50 hours, succeeding in sending a first set of data with the help of its CIVA camera system, which was programmed to start taking pictures the moment the robot settled on to the surface.
Due to the rough landing, the first images sent to Earth were nothing but a blur. Even so, the scientist received some data that could unravel some of the comet’s secrets, possibly shedding some light on the origins and evolution of the Solar System.
Some of the information that was broadcast could be considered evidence reinforcing the idea that such celestial bodies carried or even spread organic molecules throughout the early Solar System. The comet’s structure and composition could offer hints regarding planet formation and whether comets brought water and other ingredients for life to Earth.
If the incident hadn’t ocurred, Philae would have explored the comet’s surface until March 2015. At this time, the probe will remain in a hibernating state for another few weeks until the comet reaches the inner-Solar System. The Rosetta spacecraft is still orbiting the comet, undertaking its own set of studies, shooting images of 67P’s surface while trying to locate the probe’s exact landing spot.
In honor of their hard work, the team members involved in the Rosetta mission were elected by the Euronews team as the “Person of the year” for 2014. The winners are selected from a list of people or groups of people that had a great influence (good or bad) on the world in a certain year.
Image Source: The Guardian