Posts Tagged ‘landing’

Hang On, Philae!

Posted by Zoe on 12th November 2014 in Exogeology, Main Page

Could you land on a comet? Normally, the force of gravity holds a lander to the surface of a larger body, like a planet or a moon. The less mass an object has, the less gravity pulls you toward it. Comets are small. Gravity won’t do you a lot of good, so you would need to hang on tight.

That’s what Philae is doing. The European Space Agency (ESA) sent a spacecraft named Rosetta to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and Rosetta carried a dishwasher-sized probe called Philae, which was to land on the comet. The comet is about the size of a mountain, which may seem big, but think how small a mountain is in comparison to a planet! The Philae lander had to come equipped with screws in its feet and harpoons to grasp the surface.

Philae detached from Rosetta early this morning (09:03 GMT, 02:03 Arizona time) and began its descent. Curiosity had seven minutes of terror landing on Mars, but Philae took seven hours from separation to landing. At 16:03 GMT, ESA heard from the little lander. Philae had successfully touched down! But remember those harpoons? They didn’t work. Philae is clinging on by the screws in its feet, but it’s there.

Philae's view of the comet. Courtesy ESA.

Philae’s view of the comet. Courtesy ESA.

Philae will photograph and analyze the comet for the next two and a half days. If it gets enough sunlight for power, it can keep going for an “extended phase” lasting until March 2015—four whole months of comet science! After that, the comet will be closer to the sun and Philae will probably be too hot to work. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will also heat up as it gets closer to the sun, so we might be able to see it active, with ices sublimating (turning from solid to gas) and creating the tails of gas and dust comets are famous for. Maybe the most exciting reasons to study a comet up close are that we get to see way, way back in history, and we get to learn about the far, far off outer solar system. Here’s wishing Philae just the right amount of sun.

Is landing on a comet even possible? Yes, but it’s tricky. Hang on tight, Philae!

More information:

Rosetta main website

Rosetta blog

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Timeline, instruments, and and landing details from Emily Lakdawalla

Bad Astronomy’s coverage, part one and part two

NPR story

ESA’s photographs

 

Congratulations, Curiosity!

Posted by Zoe on 6th August 2012 in Exogeology, Main Page, Petra's Blog

Tonight, Curiosity reached its destination: Gale Crater, Mars.

Curiosity's first image taken from the surface of Mars. Woo-hoo! (Image credit: NASA)

Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), traveled for about 352 million miles (567 million km) from a cleanroom at JPL on Earth to a place called Mount Sharp in Gale Crater on Mars. It’s hard to imagine traveling so far.

Curiosity's cleanroom, way back in 2010.

Mount Sharp, the area on Mars Curiosity will explore. (Image credit: NASA)

Tonight, August 5, Curiosity’s team worked through the “Seven Minutes of Terror” while everyone else, including myself, just hoped and wished for the best.

Can you even imagine how hard it would be to land a rover? Can you imagine just how nervous you’d be that all the work put into Curiosity would either have the chance to succeed amazingly or just fail terribly? I can’t, but that’s what Curiosity’s team must have felt.

Landing Curiosity had several stages. (Image credit: NASA)

Finally, can you imagine the relief and excitement as Curiosity landed safely on solid ground? I can, but not even half as much as Curiosity’s team, I’m sure.

I’m so, so glad Curiosity made the landing safely. Congratulations, Curiosity! You ROCK!