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The Day After…

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At the end of our last thrilling episode, we left the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P, having descended from its orbiting ROSETTA mothership, but we didn’t know where it was or what kind of state it was in. As we all went to bed last night there were suspicions that Philae had bounced after its initial landing and then come down some time later in a totally different location, but at the end of a thrilling/terrifying day data was being received and there were a lot of smiling faces at ESA. So, 24 hours after Philae landed on Comet 67P, what’s the situation?

ESA held a media briefing earlier today, and, well, basically there’s good news, and there’s bad news…

The good news is that Philae is down on the surface of 67P, working, and working very well, and sending back bucketloads of data, including pictures.We’ll look at some of those later.

The bad news? Philae bounced more, and further, than anyone was thinking last night. After coming down almost smack bang in the middle of Agilkia, the planned landing site – the carefully-selected, beautifully flat, safe, landing site – Philae then decided it wasn’t the right spot after all, too boring, and headed skywards again… and stayed up there for another TWO HOURS… It seems Philae’s flightpath was then basically over and across that huge crater at the ‘front’ of the smaller of the comet’s two lobes, until it came down on the other side.

And then it bounced again.

Eventually, another seven more minutes later, Philae came down and stayed down… but by now the lander was a long way from home, and definitely not in Kansas any more. This pic I made shows where it should have been, and where the ROSETTA team think (they’re still not sure) it  is now.

bounce 1s

bounce 2

Philae is now in one of the most rugged, roughest, least friendly areas of the whole comet. Not only that, but the images it has taken so far – and released today – suggest that it set down either at an angle, either in the shadow of or or up against a large boulder/outcrop. And to make matters even worse, none – not a single one – of the systems designed to fix the lander to the ground appears to have worked, so it is standing freely on the surface.

Well, I say “standing”. Some people, looking at the photos released today, think that Philae is actually lying on its side, with one of its three legs sticking up towards the sky. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the small amount of sunlight falling on the lander suggests that it is either wedged behind a big obscuration of some kind – a boulder or outcrop, something like that – or even came to rest in a hole or depression in the cliffs marking the rim of the crater. If you look at this crop from one of the fantastic navcam images you’ll see Philae is really, really not in a good place…

Site OMG

If the lander really is stuck somewhere in there, with little sunlight, that’s not good. Solar powered, it needs sunlight to stay alive, and to power its many instruments. If it had landed where planned, Philae would have been able to recharge repeatedly, and should have lasted months. If it can’t recharge its batteries, its life could be measured in days.

Which all sounds extremely gloomy, but that’s looking at it completely the wrong way! Against all the odds, Philae landed… eventually… is now down on 67P and doing fantastic science. And sending back great pictures. Here are the ones it sent back of its landing site…

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But another image was released by the OSIRIS team today, which shows something rather special…

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Let’s zoom in on that a little…

ph ios 2

That, dear readers, is Philae, on its way to its date with destiny on the surface of 67P, as photographed by the OSISIS cameras onboard ROSETTA. What a fantastic achievement.

I’ll end with this cute and oddly moving image posted by ESA today…

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Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww..!!!!!

And that’s where we are now… more tomorrow.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks Stuart, for the Summary of the Philae location and situation. For infrequent net visitors, blogs like yours are the better sites to visit to be able to see the Wood for the Trees.

  2. […] gefunden. Auch ESA, Planetary Soc. und R.A.S. Releases und Artikel hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier und hier. [19:45 […]

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