Parking lot 67P
by Dev Sheth | published Dec. 26th, 2014
November 2014 saw its fair share of breaking-news events—from Interstellar finally hitting theaters to the lake effect blessing Buffalo, NY with a storm to remember; from artificial intelligence supposedly emerging as the latest threat to humanity to Kim Kardashian’s buttocks, November has seen it all.
Science has had its say in the form of an achievement that pushes us forward on the road to space colonization: the landing of the Philae probe on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 67P, named after its discoverers Klim Ivanovych Churyumov and Svetlana Ivanova Gerasimenko, entered record books as the site of the first ever landing of a spacecraft on a comet nucleus.
The Rosetta mission carrying the probe took off from Earth on March 2, 2004 aboard the Ariane 5G+ rocket. The European Space Agency (ESA) tracks and operates the lander from its observation center in Darmstadt, Germany. The mission of the lander was to successfully land on the surface of the comet, attach itself and transmit data about the comet’s composition.
Unfortunately, that has not gone entirely to plan. The probe’s harpoon system failed to fire upon impact, resulting in the probe bouncing twice before landing. Consequently, the probe has landed in a dark spot, which is not ideal for its batteries. It fell silent on Nov. 14, 2014, around two days after landing. The spacecraft that carried the probe to the comet, codenamed Rosetta, continues to attempt to establish contact under supervision by the ESA, or at the very least locate it.
Nevertheless, the data collected by the probe during the time it was operational has since been relayed to mission control via the orbiter and is being analyzed by the ESA. The instruments onboard the probe include a drill that allows it to take samples of subsurface material along with spectrometers and magnetic field detectors, among others.
The current hibernation of the probe is mainly due to the lack of enough sunlight available in its current location to power its solar power systems. That could change as the comet moves through space. The ESA remains optimistic of being able to re-establish contact with the probe through the Rosetta orbiter in the future.