Rosetta mission team pick a landing site

Rosetta_mission_selfie_at_comet

Rosetta selfie (Copyright: ESA)

I’m loving the beautiful ESA images of the Rosetta spacecraft – especially this ‘selfie’ with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko behind. You can almost imagine you are there, peeping out of a little window and seeing the solar panels unfurled below. It’s as comforting as seeing the wing out of your aeroplane window.

This week (15 September) scientists announced their chosen landing site for the Philae lander: on the head of the comet not too far from where there are some jets of water vapour. So if the landing scheduled for November goes well, Philae is well-positioned for seeing some action as the comet comes closer to the sun and the jets become more active.

Unfortunately the landing site has slopes, ridges and boulders, but holds more promise than the other four provisional sites being analysed. Finding a suitable spot for landing is difficult because of the comet’s double-lobed shape. Scientists originally assumed the comet would be a simple, rounded shape like a potato, and even then the chances of a successful landing were estimated at between 70% and 75%. But we have the advantage that the 4 km comet’s gravity is very weak, and there is no atmosphere, so touchdown will happen at walking speed.

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About sophiehebden

Science writer and editor, I mostly write about space and fundamental questions in physics.
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