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Catch up on Rosetta, the world’s first comet landing

That's one small step for a probe...


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Posted on Nov 12, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 5:34 am CDT

If someone on your Twitter timeline is getting overly emotional about space travel today, it’s probably because of the Rosetta comet landing.

Space exploration fans around the world are watching the aftermath of the European Space Agency’s successfulRosetta mission aided by the ESA’s livestream and a host of science tweeters. After a decade-long journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Rosetta probe is in orbit and its lander, Philae, is safely on the comet’s surface. Aside from a couple of technical glitches, the mission seems to be going well.

Touchdown! My new address: 67P! #CometLanding

— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014

I’m on the surface but my harpoons did not fire. My team is hard at work now trying to determine why. #CometLanding

— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014

This is the first time any made-man object has successfully landed on a speeding comet, so the scientists over at the ESA were understandably excited. Here’s what the operations room looked like when everyone found out that Philae had landed.

The harpoons referenced in the ESA’s tweets were meant to attach Philae to the comet’s surface. Luckily, Philae’s landing was softer than expected, so it didn’t bounce away on impact, but the probe’s operators on Earth are still hoping to re-fire the harpoons.

“The glitches in telemetry are just like normal work for us,” ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration Alvaro Giménez Cañete told the Guardian. “It is natural and we have to work with it.”

Cañete added, “I’m confident [the harpoons] will work. As far as I am concerned this is business as normal. People just need to keep calm. As I always tell them, if it is a real problem then you need to be calm, if it’s no problem then you don’t have to worry.”

Because of the vast distance between the Earth and the comet’s position, there is a half-hour delay in communications between Philae and its operators, so the “live” mission updates actually take a while to transmit. However, we’re already seeing some amazing images from Rosetta and its landing probe.

I see you too @philae2014! Here you are in my OSIRIS camera – legs out! #CometLanding

— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) November 12, 2014

.@ESA_Rosetta See for yourself! ROLIS imaged #67P when we were just 3km away! Glad I can share. #CometLanding

— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014

Along with images from the Rosetta probe, the ESA has also released a “song” from Comet 67P—an audio translation of oscillations in its magnetic field. You can listen to it here on Soundcloud, with the frequencies altered to be audible to the human ear.

In between the official updates from the ESA, people back on Earth have been keeping themselves entertained with XKCD’s live Rosetta landing webcomic and the various social media feeds coming out of ESA Operations in Darmstadt, Germany. One of the most popular discussion topics is the ESA staffer who decided to wear a shirt covered with scantily-clad women.

Thirty years to reach the day when humanity will land on a comet, and you choose *that* shirt!? ;) #CometLanding

— Martin Digon (@MartinDigon) November 12, 2014

I don’t forsee Comet Landing naked-lady shirt guy getting the same kind of fanworks as Mars Landing space-mohawk guy.

— Jamie Kruger (@thekroog) November 12, 2014

I wonder wtf that guy was thinking wearing that shirt for the comet landing coverage. Like.. did he seriously think it was appropriate?

— tiny lizard (@DraakSwifttail) November 12, 2014

Recent photos suggest that—surprise, surprise—someone made him change his shirt.

The ESA’s last press conference of the day was an optimistic one. Although the lander is still not anchored to the comet, it is unwaveringly transmitting data back to Earth. Philae lander manager Stephan Ulamec theorized that the craft may have drifted briefly before landing a second time, as it appeared to move for a couple of hours before settling into place.

While the mission is still experiencing a few glitches, the crew at ESA Operations seems cheerful. Their exuberance is impressive given that many of them have been at work for more than 24 hours. “If it wasn’t easy, it would not be rocket science,” said ESA representative Monika Jones, who signed off the livestream with the remark, “Now it’s time to get a drink.”

Photo via European Space Agency/Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)


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*First Published: Nov 12, 2014, 5:20 pm CST