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A giant screen features Andrea Accomazzo (C), Rosetta flight operations director celebrating with European Space Agency scientists after the first-ever landing on a comet (AFP) Photo: Daniel Roland
A giant screen features Andrea Accomazzo (C), Rosetta flight operations director celebrating with European Space Agency scientists after the first-ever landing on a comet (AFP) Photo: Daniel Roland
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European comet landing: Live Report

Yvonne Williams

Darmstadt (Germany) (AFP)

European Space Agency made history by landing a probe on a comet hurtling through space.

The probe, named Philae, and the orbiting mothership, Rosetta, are packed with scientific instruments, and are on a mission to explore the origins of the Solar System.

There were wild celebrations at mission control when it was confirmed Philae had landed but concerns grew when problems emerged with its harpoons, designed to anchor the craft to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Read on to see how the mission unfolded.

17:37 GMT – Mission problem – The ESA says the comet lander may not be securely anchored

17:28 GMT – Head scratching – News from the official Philae Lander Twitter account:

“I’m on the surface but my harpoons did not fire. My team is hard at work now trying to determine why. ”

17:22 GMT – Touchdown – The European Space Agency tweets that the Philae lander had a soft landing.

“It looks like made a fairly gentle touch down on based on amount of landing gear damping ”

– Soft landing –

17:14 GMT – Comet sings – The European Space Agency (ESA) says it discovered a mysterious “song” coming from the comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The song is in the form of oscillations in the magnetic field in the comet’s environment, and is being emitted far below the range of human hearing.

The ESA boosted the frequency. To hear the song, click below:

https://soundcloud.com/esaops

17:06 GMT – Life on earth – One thing scientists will be looking for on the comet is organic matter.

There is a theory that the organic building blocks that sparked life on Earth may have arrived on a comet.

17:03 GMT – Tattooed confidence – Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor was so confident the probe would land that he got a new tattoo to celebrate hours earlier, he told the BBC.

The tattoo on his thigh features the Philae lander on the comet.

16:48 GMT – European cooperation – In contrast to Europe’s current fractious political landscape, those behind Rosetta have made much of the successful cooperation between 14 European countries and the United States on the project.

About 2,000 people from industry, the ESA and scientific institutions were involved in Rosetta’s development.

European comet landing: Live Report
A giant screen features Andrea Accomazzo (C), Rosetta flight operations director celebrating with European Space Agency scientists after the first-ever landing on a comet (AFP) Photo: Daniel Roland

16:47 GMT – A snag – The Rosetta team tweets that harpoons, which are fired into the ground to hold the Philae lander in place, have not fired, contrary to an earlier statement.

“More analysis of telemetry indicates harpoons did not fire as 1st thought. Lander in gr8 shape. Team looking at refire options”

16:43 GMT – Video explaining the Rosetta mission – The first scientific experiments began after touchdown and will last 64 hours due to the limited lifetime of Philae’s rechargeable solar-powered batteries.

16:43 GMT – Video explaining the Rosetta mission – The first scientific experiments began after touchdown and will last 64 hours due to the limited lifetime of Philae’s rechargeable solar-powered batteries.

– Exploration begins –

16:26 GMT – Smooth operation – Rosetta team tweets operational procedures of the Philae lander. All seems to be going smoothly.

“MT : Harpoons confirmed fired & reeled in. Flywheeel now be switched off. is on the surface of ”

16:26 GMT – Smooth operation – Rosetta team tweets operational procedures of the Philae lander. All seems to be going smoothly.

“MT : Harpoons confirmed fired & reeled in. Flywheeel now be switched off. is on the surface of ”

16:19 GMT – Some numbers – It will take 28 minutes and 20 seconds for signals from Rosetta to reach Earth.

The project cost 1.3 billion euros ($1.6 billion) and the comet on which the lander Philae is travelling is 510 million kilometres (320 million miles) from Earth.

16:16 GMT – Surface mission begins – Scientists hope the lander, equipped with 10 instruments, will unlock the secrets of comets — primordial clusters of ice and dust that may have helped sow life on Earth.

The mission is expected to last until December 2015.

16:13 GMT – Historic first – “We are the first to have done that, and that will stay forever,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Space Agency’s director general says to huge applause.

16:11 GMT – Big step for mankind – “This is a big step for human civilisation,” declares Jean-Jacques Dordain, the European Spance Agency’s director general says to big applause.

“This type of success is not coming from the sky, it comes from hard work and expertise.”

16:10 GMT – Over the moon – “We are sitting on the surface, Philae is talking to us,” says a scientist at mission control, to whoops and cheers.

European comet landing: Live Report
A model of the landing module “Philae” is at the ESA/ESOC (European Space Agency / European Space Operation Center) in Darmstadt, western Germany, on November 12, 2014 (AFP) Photo: Daniel Roland

16:08 GMT – Probe lands – THE PROBE HAS LANDED, TRIGGERING APPLAUSE AND HUGS AT MISSION CONTROL

– Mission accomplished? –

16:04 GMT – Landed? – Scientists pump their fists in the air and cheer on a live feed, but no official announcement yet.

Stay tuned!

16:04 GMT – Landed? – Scientists pump their fists in the air and cheer on a live feed, but no official announcement yet.

Stay tuned!

16:02 GMT – No word – No word yet on the landing, either on the Rosetta mission’s Twitter feed, or live video feeds.

The probe’s mission should it land successfully is to explore an enigma of the Solar System, a task that is expected to last until December next year.

15:59 GMT – Landing soon – The result of the historic landing attempt is expected to be announced any minute now.

European comet landing: Live Report
An artist’s impression of the European probe Philae separating from its mother ship Rosetta and descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko ESA/ATG Medialab (AFP)

Scientists’ nerves are frayed.

15:54 GMT – Egyptian flavour – A 15-year-old Italian girl, Serena Olga Vismara, got to name the 100-kilogram (220-pound) lander Philae by winning a competition.

The name comes from an obelisk found on the island of Philae on the Nile, and which now stands in a garden of a country house in the southern English county of Dorset.

The obelisk has a bilingual inscription bearing the names of Cleopatra and Ptolemy.

15:42 GMT – Mission control applause – Mission control for the European probe is in Darmstadt, Germany, where scientists broke into applause on the successful separation of the lander from the mother ship.

The unit “is now on its way to becoming the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said after separation.

15:40 GMT – Mini lab – A mini lab called Philae separated from its mothership Rosetta, on schedule despite a last-minute glitch.

Philae was placed on course for landing on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a comet now more than 510 million kilometres (320 million miles) from Earth and racing towards the Sun.

15:32 GMT – WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on the historic attempt to land a probe on a comet for the first time after a trek lasting more than a decade and covering 6.5 billion kilometres(four billion miles).