Interstellar Lessons: Recent comet landing delivers messages of heroic ambitions

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On Nov. 12, humanity took another big step forward, perhaps the biggest since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. A team of European scientists and engineers successfully landed a man-made probe on a comet after a 10-year, four billion-mile journey.

The probe that landed on the comet, named Philae, was launched from another probe called Rosetta. Rosetta will orbit the comet for 17 months in order to conduct the most extensive study of a comet ever.

A more extensive study is being undertaken by Philae, with data being sent back every day. Philae drilled into the surface of the comet in order to determine what makes it up. One thing has already been confirmed: the comet contains organic molecules, like the ones found in coal as well as humans.

Landing on a comet shows that in the near future, if needed, we could gain the technology to push an asteroid out of Earth’s path in order to save the planet.

This landing also shows an ability to take huge risks and overcome setbacks. After the initial landing on the comet resulting from a series of hard bounces, the Philae crew was able to anchor the probe into the rock hard surface, but the struggles did not end there. The resting place for Philae is in a shadow that prevents it from receiving enough light for its solar-powered batteries, yet it raced to collect data with the limited window of battery reserves it had, and the crew on Earth is optimistic that Philae will be able to add to these discoveries after the comet’s orbit allows sunlight to fall on Philae’s panels sometime next year.

The comet landing signifies much more than a leap forward in science. Exactly 100 years ago, the countries in Europe that came together to design and build Rosetta and Philae were involved in one of the biggest wars in human history: World War I. Those same countries have come together to go four billion miles away.

It also shows our enduring curiosity and yearning for exploration and understanding of who we are and where we came from. Comets are leftover from the formation of our Solar System, and the material making them hasn’t changed since then. What Philae and Rosetta find on the comet could greatly increase our knowledge of our Solar System and where life on Earth came from.

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