New Pictures Of Philae’s Lonely Resting Spot On The Comet Emerge

In scientific style, researchers are slowly narrowing down where the Philae lander arrived on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Earlier today (Dec. 17) at the American Geophysical Union meeting, more pictures from the European spacecraft were released showing its landing site and also what the terrain looked like underneath Philae as it bounced to its destination. The pictures were also placed on NASA’s website.

The lander is sleeping in a shady spot on the comet’s surface after the dramatic touchdown — actually, three touchdowns — on Nov. 12, when it flew for more than two hours across the surface and bounced as high as two miles (3.2 kilometers). This was partly because harpoons expected to secure it to the surface failed to deploy, and also because the comet crust was icier than expected, according to Gizmodo.

You can see in the diagram above Philae’s predicament; it’s wedged in a spot that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, at least for now. That could change as 67P draws closer to the Sun in the late winter or early spring, but nobody yet knows for sure. And yes, the search for the landing site still continues in earnest, but the challenge now is the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft only has so much bandwidth to send back images, according to Wired. As more high-resolution OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) pictures arrive, scientists hope to figure out where it went.

Two pictures from Philae highlighted in today’s release are below. Will the lander take more? Scientists certainly hope so, but even if that doesn’t happen, the lander was only expected to return 20% of the science results in any case. Rosetta is still active and will stick with the comet through mid-2015, when 67P gets closest to the Sun.

The Philae lander captured a picture of a nearby cliff, nicknamed “Perihelion Cliff”, on the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Reports say this picture had been released before, but was processed to show more detail (such as the glare, believed to be reflection from the lander). Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
Philae’s blurred view of the surface during its first bounce from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 12, 2014. The lander sailed for about two hours in the first bounce, made contact briefly, then bounced again before coming to rest. The black squares represent areas where data was not collected. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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