Human beings reached a new space exploration milestone this week: landing the Rosetta mission's Philae probe on a comet some 316 million miles from Earth.
This is the first time we've landed a human-made thing on a freaking comet, and it's blowing our minds. How did the scientists and engineers at ESA and their partners at NASA pull it off? This ESA video and GIF explain it all, in chronological order, over the 12-year period from mission launch to Philae's touchdown.
This animation tracks Rosetta's journey through the Solar System, using gravity slingshots from Earth and Mars to reach its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov--Gerasimenko. Rosetta made three flybys of Earth, on 4 March 2005, 13 November 2007 and 13 November 2009, and one of Mars, on 25 February 2007. Rosetta has also visited two asteroids, taking extensive close-up images of 2867 Steins on 5 September 2008 and 21 Lutetia on 10 July 2010. Once the spacecraft is woken up from deep space hibernation on 20 January 2014, it will head for rendezvous with the comet in May. In November the Philae probe will be deployed to the comet surface. Rosetta will follow the comet to its closest distance to the Sun on 13 August 2015 and as it moves back towards the outer Solar System. The nominal mission end is December 2015.
Here's the Rosetta mission website.
At the time of this blog post, scientists have re-established contact with the Rosetta probe, but it appears to be stuck in a crater where it cannot get enough sunlight to power up its solar panels. As with so many gadgets back here on earth, the biggest bummer is battery life.