In November 2014, the Philae module disengaged of Rosetta and began its dizzying 7 hour journey to comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After mapping the core of it, an esplanade called “Agilkia” was chosen as the landing zone. It was called like that by analogy to the transfer of an egyptian temple in Philae to the Agilkia island.
The gravitational pull of the comet 67P is one hundred times lower than in Earth, so the 110kg of Philae, weight less than a gram on the comet, producing a very slight attraction. The landing was a great concern because despite the low speed, a bounce when touching the surface could have sent the module into space. To avoid this, Philae launched two harpoons to stick to the surface but both failed. Now it just remains anchored by screws and the weak gravitational attraction of 67P.
After landing, Rosetta took a while to receive news of Philae, it perched on the comet’s surface, though all had not gone as expected. The module bounced three times on the surface after harpoons failure, moving several hundred meters from its landing point in a process that lasted over an hour. Philae’s solar panels would recharge his batteries every day and they would be able to perform all programmed tests using its scientific instruments. Unexpectedly, the module’s point of landing turned out to be a dark area that does not get more than three hours of electricity per day, not enough energy to keep Philae active. After 57 hours of work and data collection, Philae went into hibernation.
In the last contact with Philae, operators managed to turned it 35 degrees and rise it a few centimeters, so that would increase the exposure of their solar panels to collect as much energy as it can. It is expected that within a few months the comet will get close enough to the Sun, then, Philae will be able to continue his experiments about the behavior and composition of this celestial body.
This mission, despite not achieving their expectations, remains a fascinating success in our space history. We are living in an epoch where human artifacts visit other planets and comets of our solar system, and images provided by two of our adventurers Rosetta and Philae feed our deepest dreams to unravel the life’s secrets in the Universe.
A few days later, ESA announced that the module through its chromatograph COSAC, was able to find organic molecules in the comet’s atmosphere. Further investigations are still analyzing the data sent from the probe, which promise to be revealing. If they turn out to be complex carbon-based molecules, maybe we could begin to explain the origin of life in our planet. The study of comets seems to be in the near future a great source of answers to our origins.