Wednesday 12 November 2014

Rosetta and Philae #CometLanding

The Philae Lander has left the Rosetta spacecraft and is moving at normal walking place to the comet right now. It should,we hope, touch down successfully on Comet 67P Churyumov- Gerasimenko at 335pm today – however, because we on Earth are 300 million miles away from the comet we won't receive the signal from the lander till 4pm.

NASA and ESA are live streaming the mission control room.

The controllers received radio contact with Philae at 11am today – and at 125pm today they have said that they have received pictures from it on its descent and have all the data they were expecting at this stage.

The surface of the comet is unknown it could be anything from rock hard to powder soft.

Why this mission is important?

Well firstly, if successful, this will be the first ever soft landing of a robotic probe on a comet. Past exploration has only involved flying past comets and taking pictures so actually landing on one will be an amazing achievement given its equivalent to transferring an object from one speeding bullet to another. It's going to require some incredible parking skills that's for sure!

The comet is moving at  33,000 mph and it's gravity is 100,000 times weaker than Earth's, because of this lack of  gravity this means that the Philae probe will have to attach itself firmly to the comet on impact. The probe will need to use landing leg screws and 2 harpoons to lock onto the surface and not bounce back into space! It also has some thrusters to stop it rebounding but whether they are working can not be confirmed.

Even if the landing attempt should fail, all is not lost however, as Rosetta has been taken many pictures and measurements of the comet in recent weeks and all this new data on comet is new science!

What do we hope to find?
Comets are bits of rock and ice left over from the creation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. They are literally bits of the past that have been frozen in time. So understanding what they are made of is important. There are also some scientific theories that comets may have played a part seeding the Earth with water and the other basic ingredients for life and all the science data from this mission will help to  understand these theories.

What the lander will do on the comet?

If the Philae probe successfully attaches to the surface then it will begin a series of experiments to analyse the composition and structure of the comet. It will drill into the soil, take pictures with its onboard cameras and detect a radar signal sent through the comet from Rosetta.

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