In 2014, the Philae space probe left the Rosetta spacecraft and descended to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Unfortunately, Philae missed its landing due to an anchor mishap, bounced around, and then vanished. On Sunday, just a few weeks before Rosetta's expected crash into the comet and the end of the mission, Cecilia Tubiana of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research was scouring new images of the comet transmitted from Rosetta and noticed the dishwasher-sized probe in a crack. From Nadia Drake's post at National Geographic:
“I immediately recognized Philae, there was no doubt about it,” says Tubiana, who’s at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research. “I could not believe that we had finally — one month before the end of the Rosetta mission — successfully imaged it! I was so happy!”
Now, with Philae found, scientists can finally rest. The lander won’t be doing any more science, but knowing where it came to rest on 67P will help the team interpret the data Philae could collect during those few short days when it was operational in November 2014. And anyway, soon enough, its comet will carry it—and Rosetta—away from the sun and into a long, dark night.
"Long-Lost Comet Lander Finally Found
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“We already knew of many asteroids, but they have all been baked by billions of years near the Sun,” says Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy. “This one is the first uncooked asteroid we could observe: it has been preserved in the best freezer there is.”
C/2014 S3 (aka PANSTARRS) was formed about 4.5 billion years ago, close to Earth when it was formed. But PANSTARRS traveled far from the sun, "preserved in the deep freeze of the Oort Cloud for billions of years." Now it is headed back, and astronomers are excited to see what fresh frozen ancient asteroid looks like.
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Careful study of the light reflected by C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) indicates that it is typical of asteroids known as S-type, which are usually found in the inner asteroid main belt. It does not look like a typical comet, which are believed to form in the outer Solar System and are icy, rather than rocky. It appears that the material has undergone very little processing, indicating that it has been deep frozen for a very long time. The very weak comet-like activity associated with C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), which is consistent with the sublimation of water ice, is about a million times lower than active long-period comets at a similar distance from the Sun.
The authors conclude that this object is probably made of fresh inner Solar System material that has been stored in the Oort Cloud and is now making its way back into the inner Solar System.
While we were busy enjoying the spectacular images of Pluto, ESA's Rosetta camera released this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Read the rest
Further evidence that the ability to remix scientific videos and images is awesome: Here's NASA's footage of the International Space Station rounding planet Earth to catch a glimpse of the comet Lovejoy, set to a piece of Jerry Goldsmith's score for the movie Total Recall. The result is breathtaking. Real life than special effects.
Thank you, Avi Solomon!
Comet to plunge to flaming death of hot agony in the Sun today
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