If you didn’t get to witness the first man land on the moon, at least you were around for the next best thing. For the first time in history, a lander docked onto a comet in outer-freaking space. How insanely cool is that?!
Now, while Ben Affleck makes landing on an asteroid look super simple in Armageddon, in reality this was no easy feat. For starters, the Rosetta Orbiter Spacecraft spent the last 10 years travelling across the solar system trying to catch up to a periodic comet known as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
In fact, the European Space Agency sent Rosetta so deep into space, it travelled more than five times Earth’s distance from the sun just to meet up with Comet 67P.
So why do we even want Rosetta to hitch-hike across the galaxy? Well, comets are remnants from the forming solar system. Rosetta’s US Project Manager Art Chmielewski says they’re like little refrigerators packed with frozen early particles because they floated far enough away from the sun.
By landing on it, humans hope to get a first-hand look at how the planets and our solar system developed into what they are today. Comets could also hold the answer to the origins of water and life on Earth. Cue the goosebumps, people.
But first, basic logistics: How the heck was Rosetta going to land on the comet? According to Chmielewski, Comet 67P is not a friendly guy. It’s moving at 35,000 miles per hour, has 58 boulders on the side where the lander is supposed to touch down on and there are jets shooting out of it as well. Yikes!
So here’s what Rosetta did: She found the smoothest spot on the comet and ejected the lander (called Philae) to do the rest of the work*.
(*Once Philae got close enough, it was originally was supposed to launch harpoons in order to harness itself to the comet due to low gravity, but it later tweeted out that they never fired. That’s right. The darn thing is tweeting from outer space).
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 12, 2014
No one knew if the landing would be a success because, well, it’s never been attempted before. Luckily, everything went smoothly. We can’t wait to find out what our solar system was like 4.5 billion years ago. Keep on exploring, Philae/Rosetta!