Philae’s destination has been chosen!

This is a few days old, but it’s still worth talking about.  The Rosetta mission team has selected the primary landing target for the Philae lander:


The gravity of the comet’s nucleus is so weak that a spacecraft simply cannot land normally; even the gentle bump of touchdown would rebound hard enough to propel the spacecraft right back into orbit — and possibly even escape.  So Philae will have to grab on.  At the moment of touchdown, it will fire rockets to hold it down while it drives ice screws and harpoons into the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Then it will be permanently* affixed to the comet for next and final phase of the little lander’s mission.

*Well, as permanently as can be expected on a dynamic body like this.  The comet is already beginning to outgas, and we know from watching other comets that sometimes they can outgas a bit explosively.  There’s no way to know if this particular bit of the comet will stick around throughout the mission or whether it will be blasted into space.  But that’s a gamble they have to take in order to complete the mission.

Meanwhile, Rosetta continues to send back staggeringly beautiful images.  This color image shows the opposite end from where Philae is expected to land, and I’d swear it was the Swiss Alps if I didn’t know better.



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