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Bouncing Philae Takes Award for Breakthrough of the Year

By Ryan Wallace staff@sciencetimes.com | Dec 14, 2014 08:50 PM EST

It's no big surprise that this year when reporters and editors of the journal Physics World came together to award the top-10 revolutionary breakthroughs of the year, that the team would have many breakthroughs to consider for the year of 2014. And though perhaps not necessarily the most technically successful mission this year, on account of the vast distances between Earth and itself as well as it bouncy landing, the team narrowed down the prospective list down to one to name the November 12, 2014 touchdown of the Philae Lander to be the most historic moment of the year.

"The Physics World 2014 Breakthrough of the Year goes to ESA's Rosetta mission for being the first to land a spacecraft on a comet" editors for Physics World announced in a press release late last week. "History was made at 15:35 GMT on 12 November 2014 when the Philae module touched down on the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a comet 511 million km from Earth and hurtling towards the inner solar system at nearly 55,000 km/h. The module bounced twice before coming to rest, and then began collecting data, which has now been sent back to Rosetta scientists for analysis."

Launched in 2004 by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Rosetta mission this year alone has made several world records, a decade in the making. And although researchers had prepared for Philae's leg of the mission, none could have expected the final outcome, nor that it would be the breakthrough of the year, even after its little hiccup that cost researchers some time to scope out what's around on the comet.

But what's more important is the meaning behind the mission itself. Initiated to analyze and observe the composition and behavior of interstellar comets, which may reveal hints about how our Earth, and things like our unique sources of water, came to be, the Rosetta mission provides hope to astronomers of finding some answers the forefathers of modern science couldn't have even dreamed of and perhaps in the process make a discovery or two along the way.

"Preliminary analysis of data sent back from Philae's Cosac instrument suggests that there are carbon-based organic molecules on the comet" editors for Physics World say. "This could prove to be very important information for scientists studying conditions on the very young Earth, which is believed to have been regularly bombarded by comets."

"The instruments aboard the main Rosetta spacecraft have also made important contributions to our understanding of the solar system."

And while the data may not be as clear as researchers had hoped, and researchers may take years deciphering their meanings, the ESA and Physics World are undoubtedly certain that the Rosetta Mission's accomplishments and arrival to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will set records for years to come.

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