One year after Rosetta's Philae probe made a historic landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) used data from the spacecraft to recreate its crash landing on Nov. 12, 2014.
The spacecraft travelled for about 10 years and more than 4 billion miles to reach the comet. However, things did not go as planned. When the Rosetta orbiter arrived near the comet on Aug. 6, 2014, the first in history, it surveyed where the probe would land. It delivered Philae three months later but the probe did not land on its designated landing spot. Philae bounced off and went silent.
In the video, scientists were able to recreate how Philae supposedly landed on the comet. Apparently,the probe bounced off its intended landing spot and spun above the comet before it finally landed on another spot. Yet, after its initial feedback about the comet, it became silent on Nov. 15, 2014.
On January 2015, the lander made transmissions to its orbiter, Rosetta. After several contacts, it went silent again. Scientists explored the possibilities of why and how the lander bounced off and landed on another part of the comet.
According to the ESA, there are three ways by which Philae could have secured itself to the comet's surface after landing. It has harpoons, ice screws and a small thruster. Ice screws were especially made for soft material but the surface was very hard, making it difficult for the lander to penetrate the comet's surface.
The harpoons should have worked on either soft or hard material but upon landing, they did not fire. Before finally becoming silent, the lander completed about 80 percent of its mission, which was to find out as much as it can about 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, from the physical properties of its surface to the composition of its core.
"It seems that the problem was either with the four 'bridge wires' taking current to ignite the explosive that triggers the harpoons, or the explosive itself, which may have degraded over time," Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center explained.
"In any case, if we can regain contact with Philae, we might consider an attempt to retry the firing," he added.
The video will shed light on what possibly happened to the lander one year ago.
"This animation and the data it relies upon is providing the basis of the still ongoing discussion about Philae's fate on the comet," Philip Heinisch from TU Braunschweig said.
In January next year, the team hopes to receive transmission from the lander until its batteries die down because of the cold temperature. According to Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist, they are planning to do another 'excursion' in 2016.