AAAS' Science magazine has named its official 2014 Breakthrough of the Year: the Rosetta mission that successfully landed a probe on a comet!
This ambitious mission launched by the European Space Agency in 2004 marks the first time humanity has landed a spacecraft on a comet. After being launched from Earth, the Rosetta probe traveled for over ten years through space to reach its destination. Rosetta's Philae lander touched down on the comet's surface this November and collected images and other data before it lost power.
Chemical and geological data collected from the comet could help scientists better understand the origins of our solar system. The comet, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, hails from the Kuiper belt, an area past Neptune's orbit that contains remnants from the formation of our solar system. The Kuiper belt is between 30 and 50 astronomical units (AU) away from the sun (one AU, about 149,597,871 kilometers, is the distance from Earth to the sun). Sending a probe to the Kuiper belt would take a very long time, so it made more sense to examine a comet that hails from that region but travels closer to Earth.
Humanity's ability to land a spacecraft on a comet is a testament to the incredible depth of our scientific abilities. Congratulations to ESA and the Rosetta team on their amazing accomplishment! This truly is the scientific breakthrough of the year.