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Landing of Philae on comet is colossal stride forward in science - astronomer

November 13, 2014, 21:09 UTC+3 BERLIN
The very fact that a module that is so far away is sending images to us is a colossal stride forward in modern science, according to Svetlana Gerasimenko
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© EPA/ESA / ATG MEDIALAB / HANDOUT

BERLIN, November 13. /TASS/. The Philae craft that has landed on the surface of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet will provide researchers with crucial data, astronomer Svetlana Gerasimenko, who in cooperation with her colleague Klim Churyumov discovered that celestial body in 1969, has told TASS.

Gerasimenko is currently in Cologne, the site of the head office of Germany’s aerospace center.

“The very fact that a module that is so far away is sending images to us is a colossal stride forward in modern science,” Gerasimenko said. “Nobody has ever had a chance to “touch” a comet. Everything that we saw before we saw from a distance. Now that Philae is on the comet we have a chance to evaluate its condition and structure of the surface. The ten operating instruments will send us unique, extremely important data.”

As she recalled the events of 45 years ago, Gerasimenko said the comet’s discovery was largely accidental.

“We were on an expedition to monitor another well-known comet (32P Comas Sola - TASS). We photographed it and on the transparency we spotted another comet, still unknown,” Gerasimenko recalls.

“We dispatched the images to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. The reply we got said that the comet was a new one and suggested six likely orbits where it might be found. I began making observations and spotted the comet again during the very first night-time observation session,” the astronomer recalls.

Ten years ago Gerasimenko and her colleague, Klim Churyumov, attended the launch of the Rosetta space probe that has delivered the Philae craft to the comet.

“On that day I surely had no idea what will come of it all. I would very much like to see the comet we discovered prove useful for science,” Gerasimenko said.

The Rosetta space probe travelled about 6.4 billion kilometres to reach its destination. The costs of the unique research program totalled 1.3 billion euros. The landing craft touched the comet’s surface at 18:35 Moscow time 500 million kilometres away from the Earth.

Philae is the first-ever research module to have reached the surface of a comet.

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