Comet Catchers

Space agencies, along with the entire scientific community, rejoiced last week as the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Spacecraft released Philae, a landing probe equipped with 10 instruments and 7 cameras, which “freefell” 7.5 miles to the surface of the comet 67P, also known by the name Churyumov–Gerasimenko. This marks the first time in history that a man-made object has landed on a comet.

Whizzing through space at nearly 84,000mp/h, 67P was a difficult catch. Rosetta was launched over ten years ago in March of 2004 and has traveled nearly 4 billion miles to reach its rendezvous partner. Once the spacecraft had caught up to the massive cluster of space stuff, it settled into orbit and began studying the surface to determine possible landing locations. This marks the first time a man-made object has orbited a comet. Previous missions had completed 7 successful flybys.

Equipped with 12 instruments itself, Rosetta continues to communicate with Philae from orbit. The information travels between the two spacecraft immediately; however, transmissions from either craft take a whopping 30 minutes to reach Earth, traveling the approximate 300 million miles that lie between us. Imagine being the guy who had to land the thing!

Despite the huge success the European Space Agency has enjoyed recently, they are aware of a potentially troublesome error that occurred upon landing: the anchoring harpoons did not fire and Philae is, more or less, sitting lightly on a rock moving at 84,000mp/h without a safety net.

Even so, the ESA has remained confident that Philae will stay put and continue to relay new and exciting data back to Earth. Already, this brilliant team has detected an unusual “singing” noise coming from the comet. The ESA says that it is unclear what could be causing the sound, and valiant explanation attempts have been fruitless thus far. Even more bizarre: the frequency is not one that humans can detect. As such, the agency has modified the frequency so that you and your weird self may be serenaded by a collection of rocks and dust 300 million miles away in the vacuum of space.

Check out the “song” here.


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