Some 310 million miles from wherever you may be reading this article — give or take 10 million miles — the Philae lander successfully reached its destination, comet 67P, after a ten-year journey through space aboard the comet chaser, Rosetta.
Rosetta, as you may have assumed, is named after the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of an ancient stele written for King Ptolemy V. The Stone was written in three different scripts — hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek — and was rediscovered in 1799. This discovery helped man to decipher hieroglyphs by using the Greek to reverse engineer the script.
The name is symbolic, of course, as Rosetta is on a mission to answer some of life’s biggest questions, such as, ‘Where did we come from?”
“We are a way for the universe to know itself,” said famed astronomer, Carl Sagan, in an episode of Cosmos. “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.”
Philae now has a chance to study comet 67P in an effort to gather and examine as much star stuff as it possibly can.
Rosetta was commissioned a decade ago by the European Space Agency in an ambitious $1.3 billion project. The probe arrived at its target comet back in August and, after orbiting the comet for quite a while, Philae detached from its parent and began its seven-hour descent.
As luck would have it, after traversing through portions of the galaxy for four billion miles and avoiding all sorts of potential mishaps and dangers, the harpoons on the landing gear misfired and Philae bounced twice off of the comet before finally landing. Fortunately all is well with the gaseous body and its newfound robotic host… for now.
Philae still has one more hurdle to overcome. The probe may have some difficulty finding enough light to charge its batteries.