February 19, 2020

Astronomy Video of the Week: Landing on a Comet

Comet 67/P: The view from 9-metres up, with the estimated final orientation of the Philae lander super-imposed.

(Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR)

Itís the kind of stick and rudder style approach that would make the most hardened of test pilots proud.

The European Space Agency recently released an amazing animation of the approach of its Philae Lander towards the surface of Comet67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last November. You can see the alien terrain snap into breathtaking focus from the point of view of the tiny Landerís ROsetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS). The final images were acquired from just 9 meters (27 feet) above the Agilkia landing site, and show the silhouette marking the final resting place for the lander.

Philaeís descent was unpowered, and the lander bounced several times along the cometary landscape before finally coming to rest. The lander was thought to be lost, only to have awoken over the past month and phoned home. Comet 67/P is approaching perihelion next week on August 13th, as it passes 1.24 AU from the Sun, providing Philae and the Rosetta spacecraft an unprecedented opportunity to study a comet at its most active up close.

The two-lobbed comet has provided us with wealth of surprises, thatís for sure. Philae is lucky that it didnít hit that huge monolithic slab of rock you can see coming up on the Landerís upper right on approach. Thereís lots of debris in the field of view to suggest erosional forces at work, just what you might expect to see on the nucleus of an active comet.

And the show is not over yet, as Rosetta and Philae continue to give humanity a wild ride and a view of a truly alien landscape.

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