Beware small comets! Their lack of gravity can make landing hell. The Philae lander finally did settle down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but only after two tries. It attempted to touch down just a few hundred feet from the original planned site but with harpoons and rocket thrusters that failed to fire, there was no way for the probe to anchor itself. Instead it dropped to the surface and bounced straight back up into space a full kilometer (0.6 miles) above the comet.
There it hovered for two hours until dropping down again and rebounding again about 1.5 inches (3 cm) high. In the incredibly low gravity field of the comet, Philae hovered for seven minutes! Then it finally came to rest tipped up on its side in a “handstand” position with one of its legs sticking straight up into outer space.
Scientists still hope to figure out a way to right the lander. As you try to make sense of the panorama, keep that in mind. In spite of its awkward stance, Philae’s still able to do a surprising amount of good science. But trouble looms. The craft landed in the shadow of a cliff, blocking sunlight to its solar panels which are used to charge its battery. Philae has one day of full power, which means tomorrow’s a critical day. If the battery runs too low, the probe will go into hibernation mode. The lander team are going to try and nudge Philae into the sunlight by operating the moving instrument called MUPUS tonight.
Let’s wrap it up with a musical tribute to Rosetta and its mission. Somehow this comet landing, a major achievement despite its minor flaws, deserves a tribute in sound.
Rosetta’s Waltz by Vangelis