An artist's impression of Rosetta's lander Philae on the surface of 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko
An artist's impression of Rosetta's lander Philae on the surface of 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko

A spacecraft landed on a comet today for the first time in history.

The fridge-sized Philae probe was dispatched from the Rosetta mission this morning and touched down on its target 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko a few minutes after 4pm (GMT).

Rosetta has been tracking the comet, which is travelling at 34,000mph, for a cumulative distance of 6.4 billion km (3.9bn miles).

The feat of landing a spacecraft on its surface has been likened to throwing a hammer from London and hitting a nail on the head in Delhi.

After first being proposed 20 years ago, the European Space Agency's (ESA) control room in Darmstadt, Germany approved the final part of the task this morning.

It took Philae around seven hours from leaving Rosetta, which has been orbiting the comet, to landing on the surface.

The final part of the mission was not without risk, and earlier this morning the "cold gas thruster" on Philae - which helped to propel it towards the comet - was said to be faulty and therefore increased the probe's difficulty of landing.

Philae will now attach itself to the comet's surface using harpoon-like spears and send images and data back to Earth.

"This is a big step for human civilisation," the European Space Agency's director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said.

(Click on the image below to see a larger version)

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