Could comet landing unlock the secrets of life on Earth?
It will (hopefully) be one soft landing for a robot and one huge leap in scientific understanding of where we come from, when the European Space Agency (ESA) craft, Rosetta, guides its robot lander on to a comet later today.
The landing (expected at around 6pm South African Standard Time) will see the Rosetta's lander, called Philae, touch down on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
It will be the first time in history that a human-made instrument makes a soft landing on the surface of a comet.
Philae will collect samples from the comet’s surface, which scientists hope will shed light on the theory that it was a comet strike that sparked life on Earth.
“Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the Sun and its planets formed,” the ESA says in a media statement on the historic event.
“By studying the gas, dust and structure of the nucleus and organic materials associated with the comet, via both remote and in situ observations, the Rosetta mission should become the key to unlocking the history and evolution of our solar system, as well as answering questions regarding the origin of Earth’s water and perhaps even life.”
In another first for humanity, the landing is being streamed live online. You can watch it here.
The event is being eagerly watched by people from around the world.
And here in South Africa, the South African Astronomical Observatory will be keeping its eyes to the skies.
Even the Philae lander has its own Twitter feed. Here’s what it’s had to say:
If you're interested in star-gazing and unlocking the secrets of the universe, you'll be happy to know that you'll be able to do it right here at Maropeng with our resident astronomer, Vincent Nettman.