First Images Of Comet Coming In From Philae Lander

Philae, the first probe that humans have ever landed on a comet, is already sending back images from its journey.

Here’s the first shot, taken by Philae from about 1.8 miles above the comet surface, with it’s ROLIS instrument, which is a downward-facing camera that was tasked to take images of the comet as Philae descended.

Philae image of comet
Philae took this picture of the comet after touching down. ESA

Here’s another shot of the comet’s surface taken by Philae, we aren’t sure how far up this one is:

And another that shows the surface in incredible detail, right down to the tiny scratches on the surface:

These shots came in Wednesday, Nov. 12, a history-making day for humans in space, and the culmination of a 10-year project that has already taught us much about our solar system.

Ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched the Rosetta spacecraft to intercept a comet named 67P/Churyumox-Gerasimenko. For the last decade it has approached, orbited, smelled, and studied the comet, taking thousands of mind-blowing images along the way.

During all this time it’s been carrying some very precious cargo inside called the Philae lander.

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An artist’s rendering of the Philae probe on Comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ESA/ATG medialab

On Nov. 12, Rosetta deployed that cargo — the Philae lander — on humanity’s mission to make physical contact with a comet for the first time ever.

The lander successfully touched down on the comet at 10:35 am EST (7:35 am PST) on Wednesday, Nov. 12. Right on schedule!

It took Philae 7 hours to descend to the comet’s surface — one of the most difficult maneuvers we’ve ever tried in space. For the scientists at the ESA and NASA — it was 7 hours of terror.

Here’s what the comet looks like from Rosetta itself:

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Rosetta takes a selfie with its target comet in the background. ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

And what Philae looked like on its way down to the comet’s surface:

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Rosetta snapped this image of the Philae lander descending toward comet 67P ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

And of Rosetta from Philae:

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Farewell Rosetta ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Philae was supposed to harpoon the comet when it landed, which would have secured the tiny space probe to the spinning comet’s surface. But something went wrong and the lander is currently hanging on to the surface but entirely secured.

Philae lander
The Philae lander will secure itself to the comet upon touch down. DLRde

Philae will have enough battery power, scientists suspect, to obtain data for about two-and-a-half days after landing. During that time it will collect data from the surface to study the comet’s composition.

Comets, like 67P/Churyumox-Gerasimenko, could have supplied Earth with water that was essential for life. Discovering how the solar system evolved, including life on Earth, is one of the goals of the Rosetta mission.