Landing on a Comet

ESA_Rosetta_OSIRIS_FirstTouchdown-1024x702It has now been more than a week since the ESA-funded robotic lander known as Philae descended to the surface of comet 67P. Actually, as has been widely reported, the lander’s harpoon did not deploy, and so the lander didn’t quite land on the comet so much as it bounced there. In fact, the Rosetta spacecraft, which remains in orbit around the comet, even captured these amazing images (also featured in the banner overhead) of the lander as it bounced across the surface of 67P. The little robot eventually settled next to a cliff, which seems incredibly lucky given that the comet’s gravity is approximately 1/10,000th as strong as Earth’s gravity, and so the lander could have just as easily sailed out into space. Unfortunately, sitting next to a cliff also means that the lander and its solar panels are cast in deep shadow most of the time. The lander used its reserve batteries to successfully execute an assortment of scientific tests that confirmed the presence of organic molecules, but the robot eventually went silent when its batteries drained a few days later. There’s a chance the lander might reawaken in the months ahead, especially once the comet nears the sun and its topography starts to melt away, but one never knows for sure. In the meantime, Rosetta continues to send back a stream of mind-bending photographs like the ones compiled here.