The Rosetta mission’s Philae lander is due to set down on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on November 11, 2014. Rosetta has been moving in tandem with this comet since August 6, the first spacecraft ever to rendezvous with a comet and follow it in orbit. Today (August 25, 2014), ESA named five finalists as potential sites for Philae’s spectacular comet landing. Interesting to see that the prime sites are on differing terrain. They are far more diverse than I expected. One close-up image above; the other four below. The five finalists are:
Site A on the larger lobe, facing towards the neck and head. Area is layered and close to activity.
Site B. Within the crater on the top of the ‘head’ smoother floor with boulders and terraced walls. The crater on the top of the ‘head’ has always looked interesting. This is my joint favorite with Site C.
Site C. On the larger lobe, either a vent or impact crater with a smooth surrounding area. This is my joint favorite with Site B.
Initial sites D, E, F G and H were rejected.
Site I. Smoother area on the smaller lobe, attractive because of the amount of sunlight it gets, the Sun only sets briefly here.
Site J. Smoother area on the smaller lobe, attractive because of the amount of sunlight it gets, the sun only sets briefly here.
UPDATE AUGUST 17, 2014. A wide initial survey of possible landing sites. As soon as the Rosetta spacecraft began moving in tandem with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko – on August 6, 2014 – scientists began initially surveying the 3.5 by 4-kilometer-sized nucleus of the comet to look for potential landing sites. Over a three-day weekend (August 22-24), a meeting of Philae engineers and scientists will narrow the selection to five potential landing sites.
The computer graphic above was created from Rosetta OSIRIS and NavCam images. The best landing areas are those in yellow and orange. The green circles and ellipses mark provisional landing sites.
The red areas are parts of the comet’s northern hemisphere in constant sun: the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko summer. The blue areas are now in constant darkness, either due to the weird shape of the comet and/or the side being in the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko winter.
Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko will remain in the current seasonal situation until well into 2015, when closer to perihelion the comet will undergo an equinox, and the seasons will reverse.
Some links to explore, via ESA:
Some post-arrival photos, from Rosetta’s OSIRIS NAC Camera and NavCam, below.
Bottom line: The search has begun for a landing site on Rosetta’s comet, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Over a three-day period – from Friday, August 22 to Sunday, August 24, 2014 – a meeting of Philae engineers and scientists will narrow the selection to five potential landing sites.
Andrew R. Brown, an avid follower of the space program, writes frequently about space topics for EarthSky. Over several years, he has also suggested observations that were carried out by imaging teams of some space missions. He has lives in Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom and works for local government, Kent County Council.