The Rosetta spacecraft has reached a comet far from earth, in what is being hailed as a “major milestone”.
Scientists hope the European space mission will help unlock the secrets of the solar system.
The probe has completed a journey of 6.4 billion kilometres – to catch up with comet 67P.
“We are now in a position to study this amazing treasure chest that has been left over from the birth of the solar system. We can now dig into it, the material flowing away from it,” said Mark McCauchrean, Senior Scientific Adviser at the European Space Agency (ESA).
“We can learn things that have never even, almost probably been thought of. So to be there and to achieved this after so many years is a major, major milestone in the mission.”
The decade-long trip was successfully completed with a seven minute thrust – which allowed Rosetta to swing alongside 67P somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
But the scientists said significant challenges still lie ahead.
“We have entered a zone where no-one has ever flown. Near a comet there is gas and dust. This is not typical of space flight and we have to learn how to fly there,” explained Paolo Ferri, Head of Mission Operations at ESA.
“The manoeuvres during the next weeks will be decisive.”
By tracking the comet, it is hoped Rosetta will help earth scientists boost their knowledge of how planets and stars are formed.
Speaking from Darmstadt, euronews correspondent Monica Pinna said: “Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over when the sun and its planets formed. By studying the gas, structure and dust of the nucleus, scientists are expecting to move forward – unlocking the history and the evolution of the solar system.”