That’s one bounce—or two—for Philae, one giant leap for humanity. The landing on the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko witnessed a few disappointments, but the robot on board Rosetta arrived safe and sound. The cherry on the cake of a mission launched more than 10 years ago. Before going to sleep, the lander was able to transmit important scientific data collected during its 64 hours of activity. And it’s not over yet… The CNES, in partnership with MyScienceWork, invites you to a first assessment of the Rosetta-Philae duo’s mission, with two experts from the French space agency: Francis Rocard, head of solar system exploration programs and Éric Jurado, head of Philae’s navigation operations.
Join us Tuesday 16 December at 19:30 CET (10:30 PST), at the café du Pont-Neuf in Paris or on Twitter with the hashtag #CNESTweetup.
Close up taken on the ground by 2 of the CIVA cameras. One of the lander’s three feet can be seen in the foreground stuck against the wall, which likely held the lander in place.
510 million kilometers from Earth, a machine built on Earth over 10 years ago landed on a comet barely 3 km in diameter, in constant rotation and moving at the speed of 60,000 km/h. As it touched down on the surface of the comet, it was as if the Rosetta mission had put the unknown within reach, giving us access to what, even just yesterday, had been inaccessible.
In 1969, the whole world was transfixed in front of their black and white TVs, waiting to witness humanity’s first steps on the Moon. On 12 November, it was over computer screens that we were hunched. “We haven’t seen such enthusiasm since the Apollo mission. The public was really fascinated with this mission. A Hollywood script couldn’t have left them more breathless,” says Francis Rocard.
The experts, too, were holding their breath. Their prognosis was more pessimistic. “A decade of travel in space and a landing site of mysterious conditions: that’s a lot of unknowns in the equation. So, the outcome is especially fortunate,” Éric Jurado remarks.
A blessing in disguise
That’s all the more true as the equipment’s run of bad luck, the lander’s one-kilometer bounce after impact, in particular, turned out to be a real blessing for some. “The robot was in contact with three different sites and was able to take photos of several spots,” explains the head of exploration programs.
Now all that’s left is to locate it exactly on “Chury”. The CONSERT instrument has already carried out a triangulation that seems to indicate Philae is in the southern hemisphere. “That would be good news. The sun exposure in this area will increase in the coming months. Like on Earth, the comet has seasons and, for the moment, the southern hemisphere is in the period corresponding to winter here,” points out the trajectories specialist, Éric Jurado.
Except that the temperature hovers around -70°C, in general, and even -165°C in the shadow of the lander! “The risk of damage to the instruments is increased in these conditions. If a vital instrument is damaged, Philae won’t be able to wake up,” he continues. Fortunately, the instruments onboard Rosetta and Philae are complementary. If Philae can no longer take or send measurements, there is still a great deal of things Rosetta can do.
Revealing the composition of the solid material of the comet, the main objective of the mission, will still be possible. The robot’s drill would make things easier, but other instruments are also capable of it from the probe.
What are the next key steps of the mission? What discoveries can we expect? What’s going to happen as the comet gets closer to the sun and its surface transforms into a field of gas jets? For the answers to these questions and all those you’ve been wondering about, join us Tuesday 16 December at 19:30 CET (10:30 PST), at the café du Pont-Neuf in Paris or ask your questions Twitter with the hashtag #CNESTweetup.