Humankind has made history as the Philae lander has separated from the Rosetta orbiter to becoming the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet.
Comets have inspired wonder throughout human history, and some scientists believe that it was comets crashing into the primordial Earth that provided the organic molecules that are the very basis of life.
The Rosetta mission was launched in March 2004 by the European Space Agency (ESA) to make its way to comet 67P/C-G and has traveled a mammoth 6.4 billion kilometres to reach its destination. This mission gives an unprecedented opportunity to study the surface of a comet and the effect that heating from the sun has on it as it nears the centre of the solar system. Today this tiny spacecraft, after its lonely and danger fraught journey through our vast Solar System, has finally managed to place its lander on the small, 3km wide comet.
The mission was named after the Rosetta stone, which along with the Philae Obelisk, helped us to unlock the meaning behind Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Scientists hope that the Rosetta mission will unlock some ancient secrets of the Solar System.
“This is a big step for human civilisation,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency (Esa).
Stephen Ulamec, the mission’s lander chief said: “Philae is talking to us…we are on the comet” shortly after it touched down. One scientist, Dr Matt Taylor, even had an image depicting the landing tattooed on himself to commemorate the momentous achievement. This act just goes to show what a giant leap this is for mankind.
Images: Flickr and BBC