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When the Rosetta spacecraft sends its lander to the surface of a comet on 12 November, the lander will follow pre-arranged orders from Earth to touch down safely and send data home for analysis. But future spacecraft may be able to do it all on their own.

Kiri Wagstaff and her colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have developed software that can identify a plume of water or vapour on a celestial body's surface, with the goal of directing another instrument to make follow-up observations.

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