Scientists have been quite busy trying to find an ideal landing spot for the European Space Agency‘s unmanned space probe Rosetta.
After spending weeks examining an asteroid, ESA is expected to announce both their chosen primary and back-up landing target for Philae robotic lander on September 15.
The ideal landing site for Philae was described by Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Senior Science Advisor as about one square kilometer in size and should be capable to provide enough sunlight to charge the probe’s battery.
Rosetta, named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring a decree in three scripts is a robotic space probe built and launched on 2 March 2004 to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko which was reached on 6 August 2014.
The probe is expected to bounce while its first contact down as the comet possess low gravity, so ESA engineers have equipped it with two harpoons and some ice screws to keep the probe steady and attached to 67P/C-G’s surface.
The first attempted soft landing on an asteroid, is set for Nov. 11, that will make it the first time any space agency has attempted a soft landing on a comet.
Scientists have been analyzing both sides of the asteroid, with its distinct outline reminding some researchers of a rubber duck, to restrict to 5 final probable landing sites.
Meanwhile, a NASA instrument named Alice fitted on Rosetta that spent last month mapping the surface of the comet in the far-ultraviolet wavelengths has returned its first scientific data from its examination of the comet. It was found unusually dark at those wavelengths. Also it detected oxygen and hydrogen in the 67P’s coma, or atmosphere, but didn’t witness any sign of expected water-ice areas on its surface.
“We’re a bit surprised at just how unreflective the comet’s surface is and how little evidence of exposed water-ice it shows,” said Alan Stern, Alice principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
The major objective of the Rosetta mission is to clear the concept of how comets that are considered as one of the building blocks of the solar system — are put together, and what is there response while they get close to the sun.
“We’re learning a huge amount (about the comet), but there’s still a huge amount to be learned in the next four years we sit next to this comet as it evolves,” said McCaughrean.