Date
11 December 2017
Mission officials celebrate at the European Space Agency's headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. Photo: Reuters
Mission officials celebrate at the European Space Agency's headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. Photo: Reuters

European probe lands on comet

A European probe has made a first-ever landing on a comet, but it is unclear whether it has stayed put.

During the free-fall to the comet’s surface, harpoons designed to anchor the robot probe, named Philae, failed to deploy, Reuters reported Thursday.

Flight directors are trying to find ways to prevent the lander from drifting back into space. 

Officials said the craft may have lifted off the comet after touchdown before returning to the surface.

Project manager Stephan Ulamec said: “Maybe we didn’t just land once, we landed twice.”

The European Space Agency’s probe touched down on schedule just after midnight Hong Kong time on Thursday after a seven-hour descent from its orbiting mothership Rosetta, about 500 million kilometers from Earth.

Scientists hope samples drilled out from the comet, known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, will unlock details about how the planets – and possibly even life – evolved.

Comets date back to the formation of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. Like a time capsule, the rock and ice that make them up preserve ancient organic molecules.

Rosetta reached the comet, a rock roughly 3 km by 5 km that was discovered in 1969, in August after a journey of 6.4 billion km that took 10 years, five months and four days.

The mission has cost nearly 1.4 billion euros (US$1.8 billion).

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CG/FL

Artist’s impression of the probe on the comet’s surface. Photo: European Space Agency


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