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Mission to Land on a Comet

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Touchdown is scheduled for November 2014, when Philae will make the first ever controlled landing on a comet's nucleus.

"When we land, the comet could already be active!" says Alexander. Because a comet has little gravity, the lander will anchor itself with harpoons. "The feet may drill into something crunchy like permafrost, or maybe into something rock solid," she speculates.

Once it is fastened, the lander will commence an unprecedented first-hand study of a comet's nucleus. Among other things, it will gather samples for examination by automatic onboard microscopes and take panoramic images of the comet's terrain from ground level.

Meanwhile, orbiting overhead, the Rosetta spacecraft will be busy, too. Onboard sensors will map the comet's surface and magnetic field, monitor the comet's erupting jets and geysers, measure outflow rates, and much more. Together, the orbiter and lander will build up the first 3D picture of the layers and pockets under the surface of a comet.

The results should tell quite a story indeed.

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