Rosetta Finale This Month

The Rosetta mission to comet 67P/CG is nearing the end. On September 30 the spacecraft will dive to the surface, collecting as much close up data as possible on the way. This planned crash will end communication with the spacecraft, and terminate the mission. Rosetta will go out with a splash (though on a comet, a “splash” is a slow, cold event!)

This week Rosetta also brought a close to the dramatic story of the plucky little lander, Philae. The Philae lander failed to grapple on landing as intended (with almost no gravity, “landing” required grabbing on), bounced wildly, and ended up lost in a shady crevasse, where it never could recharge its batteries to stay alive.

As Rosetta orbits closer and closer to the comet, it has been grabbing higher and higher resolution imagery. Currently at a mere 2.7 km from the surface, Rosetta can image with a resolution of 5cm per pixel. Aided by the shifting angle of the sun as the comet loops outward, the camera has finally caught a clear image of the lander, lying on its side in the dark.  (This identification is aided by the fact that there can’t be anything else even remotely resembling Philae on the surface of this comet!)

Philae close-up, labelled ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

As ESA says, the image makes clear why communication and recharging were so difficult: it is on its side, and nestled in a crevasse. Confirmation of the location and orientation of the lander will solidify understanding of the limited data that was returned from the surface.

So, in a couple of weeks, it will be “adieu” to Rosetta. The orbiter and the lander will remain on the surface of comet 67P/CG, frozen and inert, until the comet breaks up (or until we send another mission there and retrieve them).


Space Saturday

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