In November of 2014, the European Space Agency became the first humans to land a probe, named Philae, on a comet.
Luckily the little probe was able to catch images of its first approach to the surface on its way down.
Here’s what Philae’s view looked like on the way down onto the comet’s surface.
Additional images from Philae’s infrared camera show that the comet is covered in boulders and streaks that resemble wind-tails like those seen on Earth and Mars. In this case scientists think the streaks are caused by streams of high-energy particles bombarding the comet.
The only problem is that ESA’s probe didn’t exactly stick the landing. (It’s difficult to orchestrate a perfect touchdown from 300 million miles away).
The probe bounced high off the comet twice before tumbling down to a completely unintended landing spot.
That bumpy landing may have been a blessing in disguise. Between bounces, Philae was able to analyse the surface of two different sides of the comet, and it turns out they’re wildly different from each other. One side that scientists have named “Agilkia” is mostly soft and covered with a grainy material. The other side named “Abydos” is much harder.
Philae scientists were surprised that the surface was so diverse — they were expecting the entire comet to be covered in a layer of soft material. Some were even concerned the lander might sink into the surface after landing.
After settling on the comet’s surface, Philae used its 10 scientific instruments to take data. However, since it landed in the shade, Philae’s solar battery ran out after just two days, and the probe went into hibernation mode.
Those two days were incredibly fruitful, though, and the details of the probe’s findings were published July 30 in the journal Science. The findings, the researchers write, “profoundly modify our view of comets.”
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