In Pictures: How to land on a comet

The European Space Agency successfully landed its Rosetta system on a hurtling comet

  • Amazing stuff

    The European Space Agency launched the Rosetta mission in 2004 and this week it completed its primary mission: Land on a comet. In its travels the spacecraft has zipped by Mars, snapped a few shots of the asteroids Steins and Lutetia, mostly hibernated for three years awaiting a rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta includes a main mother ship and Philae, the craft that actually landed on the comet. Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to land on and escort a comet as it enters our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changes as it hurtles towards the Sun.

  • In the beginning

    Surrounded by four 100-m lightning towers, the first Ariane 5G+, atop its mobile launch platform, stands on the pad at the Launch Zone (ZL-3) of the Ariane Launch Complex no.3 (ELA-3) at the Guiana Space Centre, Europe's space port, on the evening of February 24, 2004.

  • Mission not-impossible

    Illustrated factbox on the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft mission.

  • Sing me a comet song

    Artist's impression of the 'singing comet' 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The singing sounds are thought to be oscillations in the magnetic field around the comet. They were picked up by the Rosetta Plasma Consortium -- a suite of five instruments on the spacecraft that is orbiting the comet.

  • Can you hear me now?

    A video projection shows a signal that was resent by European Space Agency's satellite Rosetta to the agency's mission control center in Darmstadt January 20, 2014.

  • Look-alike

    A scale model of the Rosetta spacecraft is pictured at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt January 20, 2014.

  • On track

    Trajectory of Rosetta’s orbit, focusing on the maneuvers on 12 November.

  • Breaking up

    Artist impression showing Philae separating from Rosetta and descending to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

  • I see you

    Rosetta captured some amazing shots of the lander as it began its seven-hour descent to the surface of the comet.

  • I see you part II

    Rosetta and Philae lander.

  • Space selfie

    The Philae lander of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission took this self-portrait of the spacecraft on Oct. 7, 2014, at a distance of 10 miles (16 kilometers) from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The image, taken with Philae's CIVA camera, captures the side of the Rosetta spacecraft and one of Rosetta’s 46-foot-long (14-meter-long) solar wings, with the comet in the background.

  • Target on sight

    Landing on the comet.

  • The complicated part

    At the moment of touchdown on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, landing gear absorbed the forces of landing while ice screws in each of the probe’s feet and a harpoon system locked Philae to the surface. At the same time, a thruster on top of the lander pushed it down to counteract the impulse of the harpoon imparted in the opposite direction.

  • Size matters

    How big is the comet?

  • NASA too

    Rosetta, the European Space Agency's cometary probe with NASA contributions, is seen in an undated artist's rendering.

  • Outer space

    A jagged horizon of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears in this image taken by the navigation camera on the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft during the second half of October 2014. The image was taken from a distance of less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) from the surface.

  • Big Iron

    For landing operations, ESA is using its 'big iron' - two of the Agency's three ultra-sensitive 35m deep-space tracking stations, these ones located at Malargüe, Argentina, and New Norcia, Australia. The two stations will be sharing communication duties in alteration, with typical 'passes' -- the time slots when Rosetta is actually in visibility -- lasting about 10 to 13 hours.

  • Looking at you, kid

    A shot of the comet from a distance of 9.7 km

  • Asteroid visit

    Rosetta visits Lutetia asteroid.

  • Poster child

    Rosetta mission poster

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