What's it like to land on a comet? Thanks to the European Space Agency, we now have a pretty good idea. It's produced this animated video that shows what it will look like when the comet-exploring spacecraft "Rosetta" touches down on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkoand in 2014.
In August of that year, Rosetta will enter orbit around the nucleus of the comet and begin scanning the surface. Once it zeroes in on a good landing spot, the spacecraft will descend to 1 kilometer from surface. At that point it will release a probe, called "Philae," that fires high-tech harpoons to anchor itself to the surface.
Philae is scheduled to touch down in November, 2014.
Scientists believe comets are leftover chunks of matter from the formation of our solar system - when part of a giant molecular cloud collapsed 4.5 billion years ago. Because comets stay preserved in the freezing temperatures of the outer solar system, they are like a window into the past for astronomers who want to know what conditions were like when our solar system began.
So far, the only information we've gathered on comets comes from a few "fly-by" missions in which spacecrafts come close but don't touch down.
"In some ways, a fly-by is just a tantalizing glimpse of a comet at one stage in its evolution," Claudia Alexander, project scientist for the U.S. Rosetta Project at JPL, said in a written statement. "Rosetta is different. It will orbit 67P for 17 months. We'll see this comet evolve right before our eyes as we accompany it toward the sun and back out again."
The video above offers a visualization of what's expected during Rosetta's and Philae's groundbreaking trip.