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Philae search gives ESA insights into “fluffy” ice comet interior

Graphic: ESA

Luxembourg, 28 October 2020. – The fate of Rosetta’s Philae lander on a remote comet is now clearer: it got stuck in ice.

After years of detective work, the European Space Agency (ESA) said today, the second touchdown site of the lander has been located on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in a site “that resembles the shape of a skull”.

“Philae left its imprint in billions-of-years-old ice, revealing that the comet’s icy interior is softer than cappuccino froth”, ESA said.

Philae descended to the surface of the comet in November 2014, rebounded, collided with a cliff edge and tumbled towards a second touchdown location.

“Philae eventually came to a halt in a sheltered spot that was only identified in Rosetta imagery 22 months later, a few weeks before the conclusion of the Rosetta mission,” ESA said.

“Philae had left us with one final mystery waiting to be solved,” ESA engineer and mission manager Laurence O’Rourke said. “It was important to find the touchdown site because sensors on Philae indicated that it had dug into the surface.” 

“This is a fantastic multi-instrument result that not only fills in the gaps in the story of Philae’s bouncy journey, but also informs us about the nature of the comet,” Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist said.

“In particular, understanding the strength of a comet is critical for future lander missions. That the comet has such a fluffy interior is really valuable information in terms of how to design the landing mechanisms, and also for the mechanical processes that might be needed to retrieve samples.”

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