A Space Probe Just Landed on a Comet the Size of Central Park

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Photo: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The European Space Agency’s Philae probe landed on a comet Wednesday morning, ending a suspenseful run for the first-ever controlled landing of this kind. And that chattering you heard around the internet late Wednesday morning? Oh, that’s just a fleeting interest in science expressed by people who had no idea this project was in the works. 

The probe landed shortly after 5 p.m. local time in Germany, where the observation station is based, on a comet — called 67P — about the size of New York’s Central Park (it’s about two and a half miles long). “We’re there and Philae is talking to us,” announced lander manager Stephan Ulamec, signaling the culmination of a ten-year-long mission. “We are on the comet.” Now the probe has about 60 hours of battery life to conduct experiments, after which its solar panels will only give it an hour of work time every two days. 

After it detached from the Rosetta spacecraft earlier in the day, Philae spent seven hours gliding to the comet’s surface. It couldn’t be guided during this time, leading many to marvel at the fact that it was able to land on something quite small:

Its descent had one glitch, when a “thruster” meant to keep Philae on the comet didn’t operate as planned, but it still landed safely. And of course, Philae tweeted throughout the mission:

Now Philae will continue its research as the comet circles the sun. Information it obtains by drilling into it and through observation will be sent back to scientists through the Rosetta spacecraft. No word yet on whether there will ever be an earthly homecoming for Philae, but our guess is probably not.