Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Another Rosetta Milestone: The Philae Lander is on the Comet

So the big news this November 12th was the first landing of a craft onto the surface of a comet. The ESA's Rosetta mission was launched ten years ago in order to rendezvous with a comet and drop a landing craft called Philae onto its surface. Comet 67P or Churyumov–Gerasimenko, is a short period comet, which has an orbit that ranges from a distance between Mars and Earth at perihelion to a bit beyond the orbit of Jupiter at aphelion. This relatively close-in orbit made the comet especially attractive, as the energy requirements to get to the comet and match speeds with it were very modest. Rosetta achieved orbit around the comet on August 6th, 2014. Initial images of the comet revealed a spinning, rubber-ducky shaped nucleus about 5km long on a side.

One can only imagine the nightmare of trying to figure out where to drop the Philae lander so it wouldn't get bashed by the comet's various protuberances. Philae separated from Rosetta at around 1:03 AM PST (9:03 GMT) this morning, and reported that it had made contact with the comet at around 8:03 AM PST (16:03 GMT). The image at the top of this blog entry is the view from the Rosetta Spacecraft looking towards the just released Philae lander. The image below, was taken by Philae, looking back at the Rosetta spacecraft. Interesting perspectives. We can't wait to see the images from the comet's surface.


Blogger bill said...

Here's a NASA video of the challenges of landing on a comet:

Keep in mind that the relative velocity of the comet and Rosetta isn't all that great. Rosetta orbits the comet at something less than 1/2 meter per second, depending on altitude. The escape velocity for the comet is about a meter per second as well. This is why the Philae has screws in it's landing legs to attach itself to the comet.

November 12, 2014 3:21 PM  

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