Philae module lands on comet 67P


Internet photo courtesy of Twitter

Prayag Bhakar, Staff Writer

After more than ten years of waiting, the Rosetta spacecraft, launched on March 2, 2004 has reached its destination, the comet 67P, also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As of Nov. 12, the spacecraft detached its Philae module and landed on the comet, marking the first time humans have landed anything of its kind on a comet.

This $275 million project is being funded by organizations such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). Originally, the Rosetta spacecraft was supposedly launched to track the comet 46P/Wirtanen, only an eight-year flight. A delayed launch caused the Rosetta mission to change to comet 67P, however, lengthening the journey to more than ten years.

The goal of the mission is to observe the comet and track it throughout its journey, with the Philae module drilling on the comet and the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting the comet. This will also aid scientist to collect information on comets and space.

While landing, the Philae module was supposed to fire harpoons to attach itself to the comet’s surface. As the module was coming in for a landing, the harpoons did not fire, causing the module to bounce off the comet’s surface twice before landing, which is potentially devastating. The ESA is trying to find another way to secure the module to the surface.

Junior Sri Prakash believes that not securing the Philae will lead to a potential problem.

“The comet is flying at an atrocious speed which could detach the module and throw it into deep space,” Prakash said.

Originally, the plan was to have the Philae module drill into the comet and send data for one hour every two days using energy gathered from the attached solar panels. However, the two bounces have left the module on the dark side of the comet, making it difficult to collect solar energy. The ESA hopes to be able to establish connection with the module when it receives power. The Rosetta spacecraft, however, will continue to orbit the comet and collect information throughout 2015.

An audio recording of the Philae landing on the comet has also been released by the Rosetta mission. They have also created a Twitter account for the Philae module.

Science teacher Vasilij Acic believes that making this Twitter account is a good thing to educate the general public about the mission.

“Just trying to get their voices out on social media where younger generations frequent is a great way to send out information on the rocket in terms of updates and what it had to do,” Acic said. “It would also drive viewers, not only on the Twitter site but also to the organization’s site.”