A mission to land a probe on a comet millions of miles from Earth has ended with a successful soft landing.
The Philae probe landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 6:03 GMT some 10 years and 6.4 billion kilometres after it began its journey. The craft landed on the surface at a walking pace.
The remarkable achievement was celebrated by the European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta mission, which said that gravity on the comet is so weak that anything other than a 'soft' landing could have sent the probe bouncing off the surface.
"ESA and its Rosetta mission partners achieved something extraordinary today," said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA's director general.
"Our ambitious Rosetta mission has secured another place in the history books: not only is it the first to rendezvous with and orbit a comet, but it is now the first to deliver a probe to a comet's surface."
The journey took 10 years and touched down on a moving target with an irregular surface some 510 million kilometres from Earth.
ESA said that "decades of preparation" have led to a successful mission to collect information from a very significant space object.
"After more than 10 years travelling through space, we're now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our solar system," added Alvaro Giménez, ESA's director of science and robotic exploration.
"Decades of preparation have paved the way for today's success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration."
The Philae probe and Rosetta arrived at the comet in August, and the probe began its final 22km descent yesterday.
ESA said that this last stage took seven hours, and that the probe will soon start sending back data on an untouched environment.
"One of the greatest uncertainties associated with the delivery of the lander was the position of Rosetta at the time of deployment, which was influenced by the activity of the comet at that specific moment, and which in turn could have affected the lander's descent trajectory," added Sylvain Lodiot, ESA Rosetta spacecraft operations manager.
"Furthermore, we're performing these operations in an environment that we've only just started learning about, 510 million kilometres from Earth."
The lander has a 64-hour battery and solar cells for recharging, and is expected to run until March 2015 when the heat is likely to be too much for its systems.
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