The 10-year wait is nearly over as the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Rosetta probe Philae is closing in on its comet landing spot, with live streaming from 7pm Irish time.
Having reactivated in January after a near three-year hibernation – following its high-speed pursuit of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – scientists are now counting down the minutes until Philae disembarks from Rosetta, takes a couple of photos of its mothership, and then bids to become the first spacecraft to land on a comet.
The resulting data will help scientists learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and the role comets may have played in seeding Earth with water, and perhaps even life.
Images of the comet – some taken from within a five-mile distance – are truly spectacular, with the data acquired from a successful landing potentially allowing us greater information on the composition of comets and how they interact with the solar wind.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) November 11, 2014
Extraordinary evolution of a comet
“It’s quite extraordinary that we are able to do this – to track a comet and see the evolution of a comet. We have a ringside seat,” CNN reported ESA lander system engineer Laurence O’Rourke as having said yesterday.
Giving the success of the landing a 70pc rating, O’Rourke is aware of the risks abound, including the primary challenge of having no control over Philae after it disembarks from Rosetta.
Comet activity. Image via ESA
“It was a busy night for the Rosetta and Philae operations team,” said Rosetta flight director Andrea Accomazzo this morning, who delivered the news that Philae did not switch on correctly at first. But, after a reboot, the lander successfully powered up, and preparations are now continuing as planned.
Accomazzo also reported that the flight dynamics for the Rosetta orbiter looks good, and that the final orbit determination will be made this afternoon.
“We’re ready for tonight with no concerns,” he said, with ESA even setting up a live stream for people to watch the landing.