Comets are one of the most exciting types of space objects: a chunk of rock and ice speeding through space and leaving a long, bright tail of ice and dust behind it. We’ve sent spacecraft smashing into comets and flying through their tails to learn more about them, but this week a spacecraft landed on a comet. The Rosetta mission left Earth 10 years ago and flew for 6.4 billion miles before meeting up with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. That’s pretty amazing, given that the comet is only 2 ½ miles wide and traveling at 135,000 miles an hour! The spacecraft itself, named Philae was supposed to shoot hooks into the rock to hold it down, but those didn’t work, so the landing was bouncy. But the craft did land, and is now studying the comet’s material. The comet would smell terrible if we stood next to it, since it’s made partly of ammonia, methanol and other stinky chemicals. But at 310 million miles from Earth, it just looks pretty.
Wee ones: The mission specialists think the lander bounced 3 times on the comet’s surface. Can you count to 3?
Little kids: Rosetta left Earth a whole 10 years ago. How long was that before you were born, or if you were already alive, how old were you? Bonus: In what year did it leave Earth? (We’re in 2014 right now.)
Big kids: The washing-machine-sized spacecraft weighs only 220 pounds. If you got to ride the spacecraft to the comet, how much would you weigh together? Bonus: If the comet travels 135,000 miles per hour, how far does it travel in just 10 hours, about half of our day?
Wee ones: 1, 2, 3.
Little kids: Different for everyone…subtract your age from 10, or subtract 10 from your age if you are older than 10. Bonus: In 2004.
Big kids: Different for everyone…add your weight in pounds to 220. Bonus: 1,350,000 miles, which is 1 million, 350 thousand miles!