European robot probe Philae on Wednesday made a first historic landing on a comet, after descending from its mothership and touching down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at about 1605 GMT.
While, there were cheers and hugs at the control room in Darmstadt, Germany, the feat began earlier in the day, as the lander, separated from the satellite at 8.35 a.m. GMT, started heading for the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a large mass of ice and dust some 510 million km away.
It was designed to throw light on some of the mysteries of these icy relics from the formation of the Solar System.
Scientists will use Philae to take pictures of the comet’s landscape and to analyse its chemical composition. They are hoping its surface materials will hold fresh insights into the origins of our Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.
The landing caps a 6.4 billion-kilometre journey that commenced a decade ago. The mission’s success marked a “first” in the field of space exploration, with no mission having made a soft landing on a comet earlier.
“This is a big step for human civilisation,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, the director-general of the European Space Agency (Esa).
Shortly after the touchdown was confirmed, Stephan Ulamec, the mission’s lander chief, said: “Philae is talking to us… we are on the comet.”
The robot was due to deploy harpoons to fasten itself to the 2.5-mile-wide ball of ice and dust.