Philae, the little lander that hitch-hiked to Comet 67P aboard the Rosetta Spacecraft, landed today. Perhaps twice! The above image is, as of this moment, the latest image we have. It’s taken from 3KM above the surface of the comet with the landing zone dead center. It’s important to note that 67P and the Rosetta mission has totally changed what we thought comets would look like. Before the first clear images started coming back from the probe as it approached the comet, scientists’ best guess was still the “dirty snowball”; comets were imagined as spherical, like planets. If 67P is representative, however, comets are irregular, craggy and mountainous. And, apparently, they stink.
Based on the last European Space Agency (ESA) press conference, the team noted some disturbances in the radio communications, as well as fluctuations in the output readings from the solar panels. They also reported that the “harpoons” designed to fasten the probe to the comet’s surface did not fire. The ESA speculates that maybe the surface was softer than they thought, which might have caused the harpoons to not fire, and, more interestingly, they think the probe might have bounced, which would explain the radio fluctuations. If it bounced, it would have spun, because the flywheel used to stabilize the craft during the descent had been shut down when Philae touched down the first time. The spinning would explain the solar panel variations.
Rosetta, which is orbiting the comet, has moved out of line of sight of the lander and radio contact has been lost. We have to wait until tomorrow morning to get more data. Hopefully we will find a healthy little probe beaming back images from the surface of a comet. It’s a new page in space exploration, and an exciting one!
This video, produced by the ESA and scored by Vangelis, gives a nice idea of what the comet looks like:
However, #67P seems to be making a kind of music of its own, in electromagnetic waves. This is it, sped up 10,000 times (because people are not Ents) and, of course, changed to audio.