Calgary’s astronomy community celebrates historic comet landing
Ryan White, CTV Calgary
Published Wednesday, November 12, 2014 4:19PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 12, 2014 7:09PM MST
The European Space Agency’s landing of a spacecraft on a comet, the first successful interaction between man-made technology and the celestial object, has local astronomy buffs celebrating the scientific breakthrough.
At 9:03 a.m. MST, November 12, 2014, the 100 kg Philae lander dropped from the Rosetta space probe and onto a comet hurtling at 66,000 km/h. The landing occurred at a location approximately 510,000,000 kilometres from Earth.
“Technically, it’s a huge deal,” said Phil Langill, director of the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory in Priddis, Alberta. “When you think that this was a satellite that was launched ten years ago, to make it through the solar system and rendezvous with a comet, that’s mindboggling on its own.”
The landing was the culmination of ten years of space travel for the Rosetta space probe.
For Langill, the data collected from the comet has the potential to offer insight into the formation of the solar system and the beginning of life on Earth.
“If you want to figure out what the solar system was like billions of years ago, you need to get your hands on some ancient, ancient material. Asteroids and comets that float around in space unhindered by the heat of the sun, that’s the original stuff. If you want to know what the solar system was like 4.5 billion years ago, you have to study stuff that is 4.5 billion years old.”
“They are the original leftovers of the formation of the solar system.”
Researchers at the Rothney Observatory have studied comets utilizing the tools available to them. Measuring the light which reflects from a comet, researchers are able to collect information on its shape and size, but the data pales to the information a probe could collect from the surface of a comet.
“We’ll continue on with our little rudimentary observations from the observatory and contribute to the science that way,” says Langill with a smile.
“Hopefully, some day, the U of C will be involved in a satellite mission to go to an asteroid.”
At the time of the Rosetta launch, the space probe was equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Langill predicts the rapid advancement in computers over the last decade will prompt multiple space agencies, from countries around the globe, to conduct similar research missions.
With files from CTV's Kevin Green