Everything You Need (and Want) to Know About Philae the Comet Conquerer
If you're like me, you saw headlines last week about Philae and a comet -- but none of it made any sense. Frankly, I didn't even understand that we'd landed a spacecraft on a comet! That's awesome! So why aren't the news stories awesome? I don't know, but I've just compiled everything you need and want to know into this one place.
Rosetta looks like a metal box with two long arms made of solar panels. Philae was attached to Rosetta and is smaller and about the size of a refrigerator with some solar panels.
Both launched in April of 2004. Last September Rosetta entered the comet's orbit and on Nov. 12 Philae landed on the comet's nucleus. It was a hard landing, bouncing twice. After about 80 percent of the studies were completed, Philae's batteries began to die and contact was eventually lost Nov. 15 (almost 60 hours).
The comet, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, orbits the sun once every six and a half years. Russians Churyumov and Gerasimenko discovered the comet in 1969. It's about the size of a large volcano on Earth. (See diagram below)
George W. Bush was still in his first term when the spacecraft left Earth.
Previous orbits merely did "flybys" of comets.
The Rosetta Stone and the Philae Obelisk both contained Egyptian hieroglyphs plus other languages, allowing researchers to decode the hieroglyphs. Likewise, the two probes are designed to open our understanding of comets and the early solar system.
The sound sensors on the Philae allow scientists to deduce what the surface of the comet is like based on the noise. The first bounce sounded like it landed in a soft material (like dust or sand) and the second on something hard (like rock, gravel or ice).
Based on the initial readings scientists believe the comet is covered in 10-20 centimeters of dust covering strong, thick ice.
But that's not very surprising. Outer space is full of "organic matter" that is merely the building blocks of proteins, which are the building blocks of organisms. The significance of the find is it was predicted that early Earth had no such compounds and they were delivered by comets crashing into the planet's crust.