New photos show Philae’s bumpy comet landing

The European Space Agency released the first images of Philae’s bumpy landing today. Orbiting spacecraft Rosetta captured the lander drifting across the surface of Comet 67P for half an hour until its first bounce landing.

The insets from left to right show Philae’s path, with time notations in GMT. After studying the images, scientists could confirm that the lander was heading east after its first landing. Scientists estimated it drifted for another hour and 50 minutes, traveling a little more than half a mile before touching down on the surface again.

It bounced once more before coming to rest on a shady cliff on Wednesday, November 12, the ESA reports.

The ESA lost contact with Philae Friday night when the lander’s batteries died. Scientists will have to wait until enough sunlight reaches Philae’s solar panels in its dark resting spot before it can wake up again.

Rosetta and Philae’s mission is to understand how comets are formed and how they may contribute to forming planets. Scientists also hope to find out if comets were responsible for bringing water — and life — to Earth.

Before it shut down, Philae sent data back to scientists on Earth. The landing and this early data makes it an already hugely successful mission, said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist in a press release on Friday.

“The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science,” he said.

Miles O’Brien spoke with Judy Wooruff about the landing last week on the PBS NewsHour:

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