Rosetta Mission Sets Date for Historic Comet Landing

A mosaic of four images from the Rosetta spacecraft's Navcam imager, acquired on Sept. 24, shows a section of Comet 67P/Churasimov-Gerasimenko. Boulders that measure several yards (meters) across can be seen lying in a smooth region of the comet's "neck." ESA / Rosetta / Navcam

The European Space Agency says it will attempt to land the first spacecraft on a comet on Nov. 12. The maneuver is due to take about seven hours, starting from the moment its unmanned probe Rosetta releases the 100-kilogram (220-pound) Philae lander at 3:35 a.m. ET. Because of the 28 minutes it takes the signal to travel back to Earth, confirmation of a successful landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko won't arrive until about shortly after 11 a.m. ET that day.

In a statement issued Friday, ESA said it has a backup plan in case there's a problem with the preferred landing site, which is on the "head" of a comet that some have compared to a rubber ducky. Scientists hope Rosetta's decade-long, $1.7 billion mission will help them learn more about the origin and evolution of comets and other solar system objects.

Image: Rosetta view
A Sept. 21 image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken by Rosetta's Navcam imager, shows the area where the Philae lander is slated to touch down on Nov. 12. The landing site, currently known as Site J, is just above the distinctive depression that fills the lower part of this image. ESA / Rosetta / Navcam
— The Associated Press