On Friday (Sept. 2), Rosetta was within 2.7 kilometers of the comet’s surface when it captured this image.

Philae on surface


Philae zoomed in

Philae! Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera managed to get the Philae lander just in frame (right edge of the first image, about half way up. Look in the shadow). It’s crazy how clearly we can see the little lander. You can easily make out the main body of the lander and two of its legs. One leg is stuck in the ground, the other pointing straight up.

It’s visual confirmation of why it was so hard establishing communication with Philae after its bouncy landing.

Rosetta managed to find its companion with little time to spare. “With only a month left of the Rosetta mission, we are so happy to have finally imaged Philae, and to see it in such amazing detail,” says Cecilia Tubiana, a member of the OSIRIS camera team.

The Rosetta team spent months drilling down where they thought Philae was located. Today’s image confirms the exact location of Abydos (the name given to Philae’s second landing spot. Agilkia was the first landing spot before it bounced).

The last time Philae was seen before today was when it touched down at Agilkia. But it wouldn’t stay there. The lander bounced and flew for another two hours before ending up at its final resting place.

Last year, scientists saw several potential lander candidates in photos taken by Rosetta. They settled on this one.

lander candidate

But couldn’t confirm without better images. With Rosetta at just 2.7 kilometers away on September 2nd, the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera can take images at a resolution of just 5 cm/pixel. When we zoom in on the picture, we can make out most of Philae’s features.

Philae close up labeled

Finding Philae also has scientific implications. ESA’s Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor explains:

“This wonderful news means that we now have the missing ‘ground-truth’ information needed to put Philae’s three days of science into proper context, now that we know where that ground actually is!”

Rosetta will soon join Philae

The discovery of Philae couldn’t come at a better time. Soon, the main spacecraft will join its little lander on the surface of Comet 67P. On September 30th, Rosetta begins the last portion of its mission. A one-way trip to conduct close-up investigations of Comet 67P.

One area Rosetta’s team wants to see are the open pits in the Ma’at region. What Rosetta learns in its final hours could help scientists learn vital information about the comet’s interior structure.

Rosetta will strike the comet’s surface at a gentle 50 centimeters per second (just over 1 miles per hour). But Rosetta wasn’t designed to land. Scientists expect to lose communication as soon as it hits the surface as the spacecraft’s antenna will probably not be pointing towards Earth.

This month marks the end of a mission filled with a lot more success than failure.