Philae Performs Handstand On Comet, Sends Back First Panorama

The first panoramic image from the surface of a comet taken by the lander Philae. It’s a 360º view around the point of final touchdown. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

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.

Philae is superimposed on top of the panoramic image. The lander team believes it’s tipped up on its side. Credit: ESA

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.

Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander manager, describes where the craft landed in a press briefing today. It first touched down in the small red square at left, but then bounced off the comet and settled over two hours later somewhere inside the blue diamond. Credit: ESA

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.

Philae is that little blip as photographed by Rosetta during the craft’s descent to the comet yesterday. Credit: ESA

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


20 Responses

      1. I read that they’re going to try using the drill, and turning the body of the lander so it gets more light. Maybe the drill will pop Philae up in the “air” and it will land in a sunnier place? They may as well try what they can to do something like that, than just let the batteries drain.


        latest results coming right NOW live at YouTube…

          1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            I heard they’re evaluating various possibilities. MUPUS or flywheel. Rotate or hop up. – which will be difficult because it’s quite stuck in rocks. A next time a cool idea would be firing a laser from the orbiter. But it wouldn’t work anyway since for now they don’t know the location of the lander. Bob, why do you think they didn’t do it nuclear-powered like Curiosity?

          2. astrobob

            Good question. I don’t know why not. Maybe they figured that solar cells worked for Opportunity and Spirit and other rovers. It also may have been a budget or weight concern. Right now however, it’s too bad it wasn’t chosen.

          3. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            I thought the same thing. Then I though that weight is surely not concern at least for the landing (actually the more, the better), although probably it was for other parts of the hourney. The cost of course is an issue. It was known in advance it could get few light because of possibility of dust. I think that the main fact is that the anchoring system was expected to work, in order to put the lander in a sunny position. Sadly, not only it was already known before landing that the thruster wasnt’t working, but last year it was discovered that the nitrocellulose used to activate harpoons doesn’t work in vacuum (maybe they mean in space.. otherwise one questions why it wasn’t tested at least in a vacuum chamber on Earth). A good idea for next time would be testing the landing system in zero-gravity like in orbit, in an EVA near the ISS. Again cost issues of course but maybe it have been worth. All makes experience of course. What do you think?

          4. astrobob

            I think that right now the people that thought this way might save money or didn’t do the necessary testing on nitrocellulose are kicking themselves … very hard.

          5. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            We must also consider that this is a 10 years old mission, technology advances in the meantime. Nuclear-powered Curiosity was launched quite more recently. The lapse in this kinds of missions must be taken into account. It’s part of the game.

          6. Giorgio Rizzarelli

            Yes, Cassini. Plus Pioneer, Voyager and Viking (I did a little of Wikipedia research).

            Latest news from Philae:
            Drill, Alpha & X spectrometer, rotation all succesful. Got to sleep, with a possible awakening in Aug2015 (yes it will be “summer” also on the comet).

  1. Roy

    What a trip !!!

    Talk about Adventure … 😉 … All that is missing is a nice Hollywood Soundtrack …

    Oh wait !!! … 😉 …

    ESA arranged for that too !!! !! ! … .. .

    European Space Agency, ESA (Music to enjoy Rosetta by)

    European Space Agency, ESA :
    ( )


    #3 “Rosetta’s waltz” by Vangelis

    Published on Nov 12, 2014

    The third of a trio of music videos released by ESA to celebrate the first ever attempted soft landing on a comet by ESA’s Rosetta mission.

    ( Long link with ESA Channel list : )


    #2 “Philae’s journey” by Vangelis

    Published on Nov 12, 2014

    The second of a trio of music videos released by ESA to celebrate the first ever attempted soft landing on a comet by ESA’s Rosetta mission.


    #1 “Arrival” by Vangelis

    Published on Nov 12, 2014

    The first of a trio of music videos released by ESA to celebrate the first ever attempted soft landing on a comet by ESA’s Rosetta mission.

  2. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Bob, if you allow me an off topic, the giant sunspot (now named 2209) is back and it still has a respectable size. The first Spaceweather report was that it shrinked much. So although today I had an isolated sunny day, and also being busy, I didn’t watch. I should have. It later appeared that it was just the secondary spot.

    See the latest SDO pic for example on The overall shape has become irregular. One could see it as a partly regular sunspot, about half the size of what it was two weeks ago, with a new isolated added penumbra besides it about the same size and with little umbras inside. But I prefere to see the overall shape as a single penumbra with a big white doughnut-style hole in the middle. With this second definition, the size is as it was, 6% of Sun diameter, 2.0 arcmin. A much bigger region of facolae is still surrounding it. There are still no significant amateur detailed photos on

    1. astrobob

      We expected this big one to return – happy to hear it has. I’ve been at work all day, so I plan to view it tomorrow. Did you see it naked eye?

      1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

        As I wrote I didn’t watch at all because the first report said it wasn’t spectacular. However I can say you that, when in October it was still close to the border, I didn’t manage to see it at naked eye (filtered). I suppose it will be more difficult this month for the umbra is quite smaller. And I have the suspect that what we see naked eye is the umbra (which gives more contrast). By the way I’d like your opinion about, because it changes completely the calculations about how much a spot must be big to be seen naked eye. So the question is: when we watch a sunspot naked eye, do we really see the umbra, the penumbra or a combination?

        1. astrobob

          We must the see the combination of both umbra and penumbra, but the umbra dominates by far. The naked eye sunspot limit is much lower than is generally thought. I have seen Earth-sized sunspots. They’re not easy but you really can see them.

        2. Sean

          both times around this sunspot was naked-eye visible (with filtration). of course at some point at either solar limb this would not be the case, but i am not sure how close to the limb each transiting sunspot would transition between being visible/invisible.

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