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Rosetta: landing on the comet is underway

European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft has been in outer space since 2004. Minutes ago, it began the maneuvers to send a fridge-sized module, Philae, to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's been "orbiting" for some time. (If you evaluate the previous sentence: do you think that Russia is invading Europe or vice versa?)

Note that Rosetta is named after the Rosetta stone, a stony document released by an ancient Greek king from the Ptolemy dynasty, and Philae is an island on Nile where something important with hieroglyphs on it (an object similar to the Rosetta stone) was found.



Rosetta and the space duck

The module should be approaching the comet at 130 kilometers per hour, a speed limit for cars on superhighways, and the comet's surface is 22 kilometers away. So it's just like a short trip with your car. The comet itself is also known as the "whiffy space duck", thanks to its shape. By the size, it's not too different from Manhattan, so today, ESA is planning something like a car trip from New Jersey to Manhattan.

However, ESA can't control the module in "real time": signals travel there (or back) for half an hour and Albert Einstein won't give an exemption from his laws and regulations to anyone, not even ESA! It's almost 4 AU away from us.




If the maneuver goes well, the module should attach itself to the comet and start to drill (up to 1 foot of depth) and find the chemical composition of the hairy rock. In particular, they focus on the possible discovery of amino acids. That could strikingly confirm the theory that comets were helpful in spreading life.

As you know, I do believe that this theory is likely to be true but I don't believe that they will actually detect amino acids. I think that the concentration of these complicated organic compounds on the comets is much lower and what's important is that these comets and similar rocks and pieces of dust have a large volume – and an even larger surface – so even the small concentrations of useful organic materials may be helpful.

My idea is that only one among trillions of comets may carry some useful hi-tech organic compounds but when they hit an Earth-like hospitable planet, life exponentially explodes.




But maybe I am wrong and they will find e.g. liquid with tons of amino acids etc. ;-)

This project to land on a comet was planned more than a decade ago and it looks really impressive, especially if you compare it with the unconstructive events and rituals that are weakening the mankind as a whole and with the stupidity of most humans, including folks like science journalists.

In this seemingly hopeless ocean that lacks any sophistication and sometimes common sense, skillful people who focus on their refined work still exist on some small islands.



Good luck to Philae. If things go really well, we will forget about a glitch earlier in the morning (which caused a delay) and we will learn about the final success after 5 p.m. Pilsner Winter Time i.e. 11 a.m. Boston Winter Time. It may be hard because one gas jet on Philae – which was meant to stabilize the module while landing – is defunct. But if it lands at a smooth place, the jet won't be needed. I am not aware of any other known deviations from the optimum plan.

You may watch the progress via XKCD cartoons or the Rosetta Mission's Twitter account.



Philae, the module, and its instruments.

Update: Around 5:20 pm our time, the ESA folks celebrated – everything was working great. Their discussions suggested that something wasn't right but we will hear about these things later. The landing was softer than expected but something is wrong about the anchors so they may want to reshoot them.

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snail feedback (26) :


reader strictly speaking... said...

There is also a livestream here:

http://rosetta.esa.int/


reader scooby said...

Safe journey to Philae. As long as Howard Wolowitz is not at the commands to park the thing in a ditch all should go well ;)


reader scooby said...

Sad news about Carol Ann Susi / Mrs Wolowitz.


reader Uncle Al said...

http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/12/showbiz/carol-susi-dead/index.html



Wolowitz (uncredited) discovered signs of Martian life by driving a rover into a ditch.


reader Gene Day said...

TBBT has lost a great character. Susi created a memorable role; one that will never be forgotten. I feel a real sense of loss this morning.


reader Uncle Al said...

One hopes the space duck is loaded with EU-banned "hazardous materials." Benzene would be nice. Shrink wrap the duck to save our asstronaughts!


reader strictly speaking... said...

Alright, so the livestream coverage of the landing event turned out to have a very low signal to noise ratio. A lot of political rhetoric about Europe and not a lot of actual information.

Apparently, Philae has indeed made contact with the comet, and the contact was very soft according to the on-board accelerometers. However, it seems that the anchors did not fire, and there was no information of whether that meant the harpoons or the screw-feet. But it isn't known whether Philae is securely fixed to the comet or if it's still bouncing around in the 10 microgee environment. The communication has been quite ratty, which suggests a suboptimal antenna pointing. The commentator ignored that and after half a minute of actual coverage the stream went back to the political speeches.

Hopefully, we will soon be informed that Philae is safe and isn't still bouncing across the surface or buried in a landslide.


reader strictly speaking... said...

Twitter updates: It did refer to the Harpoons. The lander may still be tumbling on the surface, but at least we know that it is structurally in great shape, and it is still transmitting live information just fine. Engineers discussing whether it may now fit the definition of a comet rover. = )

Additional twitter links for info:
https://twitter.com/DLR_en
https://twitter.com/elakdawalla


reader Luboš Motl said...

I agree. The broadcast was like "wow, Europe and cooperation is great" in French, German, and Frenglish.


reader Tony said...

Some great pics from the distance of 4.8 km above the surface of the comet
https://twitter.com/hashtag/CometLanding?src=hash
but none yet from the surface.


reader Tony said...

Actually, best pics on flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/europeanspaceagency/15739982196/in/set-72157638315605535/


reader MikeNov said...

Also note that back when this fad started, they had the story all wrong. That Republicans were looking to repeal net neutrality was the claim. Even tech writers like John Dvorak got it wrong. Only after repeated questioning did he finally concede that maybe he's got it wrong, that the current status quo is not net neutrality and nothing is being repealed.

This is also an offshoot of a push by liberals to force ISPs to share their networks with other companies, who would resell the internet service at a lower price, bringing down the price for everyone.


reader strictly speaking... said...

Followup: what happened was that Philae bounced from the surface on the first landing. The first bounce lasted two hours. It bounced a second time, this time for 8 minutes. It is now stationary on the surface and functioning properly.


reader BMWA1 said...

Then there are the obsessed...

http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/13/living/matt-taylor-shirt-philae-rosetta-project/


reader MikeNov said...

Google has been supporting net neutrality, because there is the possibility that ISPs might try to take a share of their business.


reader Rasmus Hammar said...

I find it absolutely amazing the incredible precision technologically needed for Rosetta to eventually end up on 67P!


reader Tony said...

True. Though, maybe the exchange of some experiences with Hayabusa team, in the case there was none, may have helped make things a bit smoother.

There's that damn worm again!


reader James_IIa said...

I have no strong views on the matter, but what is the theoretical gain from the theory that life was spread by comets through the galaxy? It seems as though that view would simply push evolution back to an earlier time, leaving all the same puzzles.


reader Tony said...

My guess is: they expected to be landing on dust or something much softer than as seen in the mosaic. From mosaic it looks like it is sitting on top of some rock.


reader jon said...

If they found complex molecules that were actually self-reproducing, that would be extremely important all on its own, and would also give us huge insight into possible early stages of life on Earth.


reader tmdenton said...

Canada addressed this problem in 2009 by considering the issue as a spectrum of practices, from helpful and necessary to anti-competitive and bad, See http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2009/2009-657.htm Trying to understand this issue as Obama versus the Good is counter-productive. Motl's argument is interesting and informative but misses the point about market power of carriers.


reader Luboš Motl said...

My point is that the carriers naturally have this "market power" and they use it to help themselves, most of their business partners, and to help the whole. It's completely counterproductive to regulate some of these activities.


reader tmdenton said...

The market power of carriers is usually constrained by laws against unjust discriminations and undue preferences, which implies that some discriminations can be both just and "due"- appropriate. This is not new - it proceeds from 19th century statutes governing railways. It is unfortunate that Obama is proposing something sensible, a policy adopted in Canada and in Europe years ago. Most -even all- of what you say is perfectly true. It does not, however, add up to the argument you are making for unrestrained market power for carriers being beneficial in all circumstances. Intelligent people continue to disagree about the extent to which carriers should be constrained by regulation, and they always will, because there is no fixed end point, only a series of decisions that need to be judged in the circumstances. I will quote Margaret Thatcher on this point, who said that an unregulated private monopoly is a pretty ugly thing. You may have more confidence than I that carriers face effective competition.


reader Gordon said...

Hmm, after thinking more about this, I am now against this versiicon of net neutrality. It will hobble infrastructure investment by companies and I really do not want the government "eye of Sauron" looking at the net. I still think that some (many?) corporations are "evil" by my defn, but government regulation and bureaucratic interference may trump that.


reader Celeste Davis said...

Thanks for the nice and Informational blog! Hope it helps others, Also that theory will provide some additional information about those specific topics.


reader Leo Vuyk said...

This last Philae close up photo of the Comet surface, is reason to suggest, that it is real solid ice (H2O, CO2 or other lightweight ice), however equipped with anomalous CRACKS! which are not expected by the erosion/ evaporation model of Comets. Quantum FFF Theory however is able to explain this anomalous behaviour by a so called internal expansion model for comets.

See: http://vixra.org/pdf/1410.0039v4.pdf