The Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae lander has begun its descent onto comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after the European Space Agency (ESA) had a nervy night before receiving the go-ahead for separation.
At 09.03am Irish time, the ESA team members received the signal that told them Philae had successfully detached from Rosetta, sparking cheers and handshakes in ESA’s Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. Now Philae will go into darkness for two hours, at which point it will ‘speak’ again as it continues its descent towards the comet.
After a journey of 10 years, including a deep hibernation of three years to conserve energy, Rosetta will soon be left behind as Philae lands on the ancient, giant piece of space debris that has been travelling through space for millions of years.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) November 12, 2014
It has been an anxious time for the men and women in the ESA’s Space Operations Centre, in the build-up to separation and cross-checking of all the lander’s systems were put through its paces but, as one member of the team put it after separation, Philae is now ‘in the hands of Sir Isaac Newton’.
For both the ESA and everyone on Earth, this anxiety will remain for some time, as we still have to wait some seven hours before we know whether Philae has landed on the comet’s surface.
Confirmation of a successful touchdown is expected in a one-hour window centred on 17.02pm GMT/18.02pm CET, with the first image from the surface expected some two hours later.
Once Philae lands on the comet, it will begin collecting data to help scientists determine the physical properties of the comet’s composition.
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