History has been made. The Philae Lander has successfully separated from the Rosetta and landed on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. This is mankind’s first comet landing ever.
Philae has relayed back some of the pics it captured on the way. Here they are:
What you see above is the Philae Lander separating from the Rosetta spacecraft. Rosetta will continue to orbit the comet while the lander samples the comet’s surface. It will continue to relay back images and data captured.
Here is the lander after having separated from the Rosetta and on the way to land on the comet:
Nearing the comet, just 3km away. Shot with Philae’s Rosetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) panoramic camera:
The mass of the lander, as well as the comet, is relatively tiny. Hence there is very little gravitational pull between them. This makes landing on the surface even more challenging. The landing has been compared to accurately trying to place a piece of flat paper falling through the air. The slightest jerk or change in the comet’s surface can send the lander off in a random direction.
The comet is about 3km wide. That may not sound like much in astronomical terms, but it is still huge. Definitely big enough to be a threat to life on Earth. This graphic by Matt Wang, compares it to downtown Los Angeles:
Luckily, its orbit does not intersect with Earth’s orbit. Though there could very well be other, more threatening objects out there.
Somehow, it seems like the 60s space race may have been more glamorous, but most of our real progress has been made in recent years. Everything from Mars rovers to Voyager 1 reaching deep space.
Probably won’t be long before we can finally start mining such celestial bodies.