November 13, 2014

The Most Important Thing That Happened This Week (That Might Change Your Life)

everything you need to know about the Rosetta mission
If you aren't at least a little impressed by Kim Kardashian's ass, well, you're lying to yourself. But despite what Twitter might be telling you, Kim's butt is not the most impressive thing that happened this week.

Because although Kim's butt seems to have unlimited potential for growth, I can assure you it will never reach 1013 kg. Which, coincidentally, is the mass of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet that we landed a spacecraft on Wednesday.

Now, before you close this out because science, lame, I want to see someone balance more stuff on their butt... give me a second. You might not think that you care about the European Space Agency landing a spacecraft on a comet for the first time ever, but I can assure you that you do.

Because besides being one of the coolest feats in recent history, the Philae lander's successful landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is also extremely relevant to you. Yes, you, personally.

Seriously, it is. And I'll give you three reasons why.

Back up. What happened again?

On Wednesday, the Philae lander (an attachment to the unmanned space probe called Rosetta) landed on a comet. In case you're not up-to-date on your space lingo, comets are often called "dirty ice-balls" because that's what they are: floating chunks of ice, rock, and dust that are supposedly the remnants of the formation of stars and planets billions of years ago. Evidently there are billions of comets hanging out near the outside of our Solar System, but sometimes they will travel to the inner Solar System where we discover them and give them really easy to pronounce names, like Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Still don't care.

But you should! Why? Here are at least three ways Philae's success can actually be directly incorporated into your life.


You know when you're driving through Florida and about four hours in, you start getting really pissed because Florida just. never. ends?

Well, imagine if you had another ten years to go. Because that's how long Rosetta had been travelling, ever since its launch on March 2, 2004. And then imagine if Florida was actually around -95o F. Because that's apparently how cold the surface of Comet 67P is.

So what were you complaining about again?

image from NASA

If you're one of those people (like me) who figured that parallel parking is a mostly pointless exercise that doesn't really need to be learned, Philae's landing will teach you otherwise.

After Rosetta released Philae, the Rosetta mission team had about seven hours before the lander landed to bite their nails anxiously wondering if Philae was good at parking. And they were really hoping it was, because it only had a one-square-kilometer spot on the comet where it was "safe" enough to land. If that doesn't sound like a lot, it isn't, which is why the mission's manager only gave the landing a 75% chance of success. And that was before one of the spacecraft's vital landing instruments broke.

Luckily, Philae is apparently really really good at parking, saving the team from years and years of wasted work.

Still think parking's not important?


Okay, that's a lie; your grandma isn't on Comet 67P. But with the data gathered there, they might be able to give us a little more information on how Grandma came to be.

Some researchers believe that the Earth as we know it is largely the result of comets colliding with it billions of years ago, bringing water and complex organic materials that eventually became Grandma.

These researches believe that studying the comets that didn't collide might help us answer some pretty cool questions. For example, how likely is it that icy comets are what brought water to Earth? How similar are the organic materials contained by comets to the materials that make up human proteins? Is it possible that comets brought to Earth the very basic building blocks of Grandma?

So really, it's sort of like Ancestry.com, just colder.

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These are just three reasons why you should care about Comet 67P but if you want more, you can learn basically anything you want by reading Rosetta's Frequently Asked Questions. If you want to know more about Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, you'll find a lot of good information here. And if you want to know what exactly Rosetta had been doing since 2004, Yahoo put together this informative timeline.

And if you still don't care about all this?

Well, your grandmother would be ashamed.