Philae’s view from Comet 67P

The good folks on the Rosetta mission have been working hard to figure out exactly where the Philae lander ended up after yesterday’s landing, and this morning released the first images taken from the surface of a comet. Most of the images don’t reveal much, but this one shows a fair amount of detail:

Surface of Comet 67P, taken from one of Philae's landing leg cameras. Credit: ESA
Surface of Comet 67P, taken from one of Philae’s landing leg cameras. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

How amazing is that??? When combined with the other images on cameras mounted on the lander, we have the first panorama of Philae’s landing site:

The first panoramic image of Philae's landing site. Credit: ESA Rosetta / Philae / CIVA
The first panoramic image of Philae’s landing site. Credit: ESA Rosetta / Philae / CIVA

As you can see, most of the image is pretty dark, and that’s a problem. Philae was supposed to land in a well-illuminated landing site. Not only would that have given better imagery, but crucially, it would have provided power to Philae’s solar panels.

Instead it bounced, sending the lander about a kilometer back into space. For about an hour, it slowly drifted back down in the comet’s low gravity, eventually landing a considerable distance from its planned location. At this point, it seemed to have bounced again, though not quite as much.

Philae's planned landing site (red) and the area where it most likely bounced to (blue). Credit: ESA
Philae’s planned landing site (red) and the area where it most likely bounced to (blue). Credit: ESA

Space blogger Jason Major was able to visualize this a little better by mapping the planned and actual landing regions onto an image:

To make matters worse, only two of Philae’s three landing feet are in contact with the comet’s surface – in other words, Philae seems to be knocked to one side.

All of this means that Philae won’t be able to get the power it needs to do all of the planned science. But the good news is that it’s still talking to the Osiris Rosetta orbiter and is otherwise in great shape. That means that some science can and will be done, but right now it’s a matter of prioritizing what science can be done with the power they have left.

None of this is to take away from an incredible accomplishment – we landed on a comet, and there is much to be learned. Way to go, Rosetta!

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