Science! By Aug. 26, 2014 3:27 pm
Five potential Rosetta probe landing sites identified on comet P67 | Science! |

After 10 years and four billion miles, the ESA’s Rosetta mission is preparing for its big moment. In the next few months, the Rosetta probe will launch the Philae lander as it orbits comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Finding a place on the comet’s craggy surface for the probe to land will be a crucial step in making sure the mission continues to go off without a hitch. The ESA has narrowed the original list of 10 candidate sites down to five, each with its own challenges and benefits.

Comet 67P is roughly 2.5 miles (4 km) across and has three distinct zones–the body, the neck, and the head. The names come from the object’s vague resemblance to a duck. All five possible sites are on the head or body portions in what appear to be relatively flat areas. Much of the surface of 67P is covered with uneven outcroppings and boulders the size of a small house. So finding something flat is the first criteria, but the lander has additional requirements.

Philae will have 64 hours of battery power when it detaches from Rosetta, but a solar panel array will allow it to recharge each time the comet spins around to bring it in line with the sun. Ideally, the team needs to find an area that gets a good amount of light, but not too much. A spot that sees too much light could cause the lander to overheat. The local geography also needs to be positioned such that the lander and orbiter can stay in communication.

Scientists are going to spend the next several weeks scanning each potential site to obtain higher-resolution images. This should allow them to make better guesses about the terrain and composition of each site. Once the location has been confirmed, Philae will be released and drop down before using harpoons to anchor itself to the comet and begin its work.

The landing is currently scheduled for November 11th, but the date could change based on what is learned about the landing zones.

Five potential Rosetta probe landing sites identified on comet P67 | Science! |


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