After a ten-year journey, the final nerve-wracking countdown is only hours away as a probe prepares for a daring landing on a high-speed comet. The Rosetta spacecraft has been orbiting the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since August, and will make history when it drops its washing-machine-size lander, Philae, onto the comet at 10:35 a.m. EST (7:35 a.m. PST) on Wednesday morning, November 12. Live video feed shown above. Other spacecraft have made contact with comets before, but only as impacts, essentially crash landings such as the Deep Impact probe that smashed into a comet in 2005. This will be the first time a mission tries to soft-land on a comet, allowing it to deploy delicate scientific instruments, and will mark only the eighth body in the solar system to be landed on. (See the National Geographic Channel's "Comet Catcher: The Rosetta Landing.") The spacecraft has spent the past few months scouting out a suitable landing site as it built up a stunning portrait of the 2.5-mile-wide (4 kilometers) icy visitor to the inner solar system. Rosetta's photographs of the comet have revealed impressive steep canyons, towering cliffs, and jagged boulders of all sizes strewn across its barren surface. After weeks of poring over potential landing sites, mission scientists chose one with a balance of the least hazardous terrain and greatest scientific potential. More via Nat Geo Vewing Guide.
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