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Comet-Chasing Probe Sends Signal to Earth

The spacecraft had been in hibernation for almost three years -- until today
Updated Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, at 2:42 p.m. ET
Europe Comet Chaser
This undated image provided by the European Space Agency ESA shows an artist's impression of the Philae lander. (AP Photo/ESA ATG medialab, Astrium E, Viktor, File)

BERLIN (AP) - A comet-chasing space probe that has been in hibernation for almost three years has woken up and sent its first signal back to Earth.

The European Space Agency received the all-clear message "Hello World!" from its Rosetta spacecraft some 800 million kilometers (500 million miles) away shortly after 7 p.m. (1800 GMT; 1 p.m. EST).

Rosetta was put into hibernation in 2011 to conserve energy for its long journey to meet with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

If all goes as planned the probe will rendezvous with the comet in the coming months and drop a lander onto its icy surface in November.

Rosetta is named after a block of stone that allowed archeologists to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope the probe's findings will help them understand the composition of comets and thereby discover more about the origins and evolution of our solar system.

Comets are regarded as flying time capsules because they are essentially unchanged for 4.6 billion years. Scientists have speculated that comets - which are essentially giant, dirty snowballs - may be responsible for the water found on some planets. And like asteroids, comets also pose a theoretical threat to life on Earth.

"Over the millennia comets have actually affected our evolution," said Ferri. "There are many theories about comets hitting the Earth and causing global catastrophes. So understanding comets is also important to see in the future what could be done to defend the Earth from comets."

If all goes as planned, Rosetta will reach 67P in the coming months and fly a series of complicated maneuvers to observe the comet - a lump of rock and ice about four kilometers (2.5 miles) in diameter - before dropping a lander onto its icy surface in November.

The Philae lander will dig up samples and analyze them with its on-board instruments.

The probe and its lander will keep sending back data until their batteries die or the debris streaming off the comet irreparably damages their sensitive instruments.

The mission is different from NASA's Deep Impact probe that fired a projectile into a comet in 2005 so scientists could study the resulting plume of matter. NASA also managed to land a probe on an asteroid in 2001, but comets are much more volatile places because they constantly release dust and gas that can harm a spacecraft.

NASA is planning another space rock mission between 2019 and 2021. The agency is looking into sending a robotic spaceship to lasso a small asteroid and haul it close to the moon, where spacewalking astronauts would explore it.

RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space


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I'd like to site on that Comet in a beachchair and smoke some the best weed our planet hast to offer. Call it a "meet and greet, or a Turn & Burn"

January 21 2014 at 9:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would like to sit on that comet with a beach chair and eat a ham sandwich

January 21 2014 at 8:38 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to xraybrain's comment

I'd provide you a Country Ham Sandwich from (my company) Browning's Country Ham.

January 21 2014 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

the rosseta stone didn't decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. (5000 years ago) only hieroglyphs from king tuts time. (3000 years ago) ancient hieroglyphs will probably never be deciphered.

January 21 2014 at 8:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What i meant was free franchisess on every resraunt you can think of on mars..

January 21 2014 at 8:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Jump in everyone there giving away free franchisess..

January 21 2014 at 8:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm just waiting too get my franchise on mars for pizza hut and my wife is getting a franchise for Burger king ..

January 21 2014 at 8:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Damn them are good sleeping pills..

January 21 2014 at 8:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fantastic technical feat! Caption writers for the picture should brush up on their English, what does "woken up" mean? how about awakened? woken????

January 21 2014 at 8:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

'...has woken up' ?? what kind of writers are they hiring as journalists these days? I feel like I'm reading essays written by elementary school children...it's a sad statement about what people are willing to accept as quality writing anymore.

January 21 2014 at 8:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mike's comment

@ bill and mike Do either of you own a dictionary?

Woken--past participle of wake

January 21 2014 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A total WASTE of $$$$$$$$$ !!!!

January 21 2014 at 8:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
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