Philae lander: Google Doodle marks Rosetta spacecraft's historic comet landing

Scientists hope samples taken from the landing will help to unlock the mysteries of life and creation

Google has celebrated the historic landing of the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe on a comet, with a Doodle on its homepage.

A first in space exploration, the landing was the climax of a decade-long mission costing close to1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion), aimed at examining the remnants of the birth of the Earth's solar system.

The fridge-sized lander embarked on a seven-hour descent from Rosetta before it touched down on the comet around half a billion kilometres (300 million miles) from Earth this afternoon.

But the launch encountered a glitch when harpoons designed to anchor the probe, named Philae, did not deploy – leaving the ESA to consider options to ensure the lander did not drift away into space.

Comets derive from the formation of the Earth's 4.6-billion-year-old solar system.

Samples from the surface of the 3-by-5km 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko may help scientists understand how planets and life are created, as the rock and ice which make up comets contain organic time-capsule-like molecules.

Rosetta has set a number of recordings, including being the first spacecraft to orbit a comet rather than just flying past collecting images.

Video courtesy of the Open University

“What really nails this experience for me are the images,” Daniel Brown, an expert in astronomy at Nottingham Trent University, said via email after three-legged Philae had relayed data and images back to Earth as it moved towards the comet.

“Especially exciting will be getting the results of the samples recovered from below the surface and seeing their chemical composition,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters