Rosetta: love astride a comet

Rosetta's lander, Philae, separates from the probe en route to the comet.
Rosetta’s lander, Philae, separates from the probe en route to the comet.

The deep-space probe Rosetta set its lander Philae astride a comet today, a historic feat for the European Space Agency — and for humanity.

At 16:03 GMT November 12, the agency announced, scientists in ESA stations in Argentina, Spain and Germany had received word of the landing from Philae. It was a signal from about six billion kilometres away, for which they’d waited since 2004 when the probe was launched.

“Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured another place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now also the first to deliver a probe to a comet’s surface, “said ESA director-general Jean-Jacques Dordain in a release.

The probe arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August and hovered for months within 100 kilometres of it for months, as the agency chose a landing site and prepared to send Philae down.

Even the landing site was no simple decision: the comet was an odd shape and, said the agency, “littered with boulders, towering cliffs and daunting precipices and pits, with jets of gas and dust streaming from the surface.”

The deep-space mission reached equally deep into human history for ambitiously profound references.

Agilkia — a word derived from Latin related to nimble, quick and active — was the name given the touch-down site.

The lander Philae is named after a Greek word for love.

The mission itself, Rosetta, is the namesake of a stone discovered on the Nile in the 18th Century. The Rosetta stone, covered in hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek scripts, provided keys to early records of human civilization.

(This post will be updated with new images and findings.)

— Deborah Jones

If you missed it earlier, take a look at the video Ambition, a sci-fi story about the Rosetta mission:


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