If you want to watch in real time while rocket scientists land a probe on a comet, your first port of call should be the #cometlanding hashtag. And for a little background info on the mission, the European Space Agency has helpfully provided a short film starring one of the actors from Game of Thrones.
The ESA’s Rosetta mission is the first to rendezvous with a comet, in this case one with the rather unpoetic name of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It’s 317 million miles from Earth, and this mission has been over a decade in the making.
— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) November 12, 2014
The Rosetta probe was launched all the way back in March 2004, and reached its destination in August 2014. With Rosetta now in orbit around the comet, the plan is for its robotic lander, Philae, to arrive on the comet’s surface at around 4pm UTC (11am ET) on Wednesday. Having separated from Rosetta, it takes about seven hours for Philae to reach the surface.
The ESA is livestreaming the mission, which you can watch below, with viewers tweeting along on the #cometlanding hashtag.
One of those viewers is none other than cult webcomic artist Randall Munroe, who is live-drawing the landing over at XKCD. As a kind of “previously on Comet Landing” catch-up reel, they’ve also posted a YouTube video of highlights from earlier in the day.
Philae’s landing is entirely pre-programmed, as it takes half an hour for a signal to travel from the lander back to Earth via Rosetta. The lander will fire two harpoons into the comet’s surface to stop it from bouncing off, and will then drill down to secure its position. After that it will begin to transmit data about the composition of Churyumov–Gerasimenk, which is about 4.6 billion years old.
Since this description may sound a little dry to those who don’t have an innate obsession with space travel, the ESA commissioned a short sci-fi film to illustrate the importance of the Rosetta mission. It stars Aidan Gillan, better known as Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, and it’s surprisingly awe-inspiring.
As of the time of writing, the Rosetta mission is going smoothly. For instant updates outside of the ESA’s livestream, we recommend the Twitter accounts for Philae and Rosetta, which are now beginning to post pictures from the lander itself.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) November 12, 2014
Photo via DrLee/Wikimedia (CC-BY-3.0-de)