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Spacecraft To Make First Ever Comet Landing Today

If all goes well, a spacecraft launched from Earth will land and survive on a moving comet for the first time in human history today. This historical event will be streamed live online beginning at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on November 12, 2014.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft was launched over a decade ago from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. During this long voyage, Rosetta had to make three gravitational sling shot maneuvers around the Earth and one around Mars to gain enough speed to catch up with Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Rosetta reached the icy comet on August 6, 2014. After several months of maneuvering the spacecraft into a precise orbit, Rosetta is now set to launch its Philae probe today. Separation of the probe is planned for 4:03 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (09:03 GMT). Philae should touch down on the comet about seven hours later at 1:02 p.m. EST (16:02 GMT).

After touching down on the comet’s surface, Philae will later focus on the composition and structure of the comet nucleus material. It will also drill more than 20 centimeters into the subsurface to collect samples for inspection by the lander’s onboard laboratory.

Rosetta is the first mission ever to orbit a comet’s nucleus. It will also be the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System, observing how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. By studying the nature of the comet’s dust and gas, scientists hope that the Rosetta mission will help them understand more about the role of comets in the evolution of the Solar System.

Image Credit: ESA

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