The successful landing of Philae on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the European Space Agency is a welcome bright spot in this month’s space news. Bright for science, and bright for the spirit of exploration. Well done, ESA!
As I type this, I don’t know if Philae has yet run out of battery power. In case you’ve been living in a mine this week, Philae dropped across space to a landing, but took a few unfortunate bounces and ended up resting on a precarious spot with too much shadow for its solar cells. I wish we could send it a light! I’d even contribute my Stanley car jumpstart battery, if it would help. Well, I’m sure Philae’s clever scientist-parents will make the most of it. And I can’t wait to find out what they learn. [Update: Apparently it has run out of battery power, after drilling into the comet, but before sending data back. Ow, that hurts. But there may be opportunity for it to recharge slowly, in the coming months, and maybe come back to life for a while. Let’s hope.]
It’s amazing how little we knew about comets until we started visiting them in robotic person. We used to think they were basically dirty snowballs. Now we see that they’re much more like asteroids, but with some snow and ice to provide outgassing for the halo.
As I looked at the pictures of the comet, I found myself thinking of John Bandicut, fictional space pilot in my novel Neptune Crossing. John had to smack just such a comet really really hard, to keep it from hitting Earth. Looking at those pictures of a real comet, I reflected on how Bandie was one mongo brave dude to do such a thing. Even if he did have alien science working for him, and was half out of his mind with silence fugue. When I wrote the scene, I knew he was brave. But I don’t think I knew just how brave.
Thanks, Bandie, for riding that other comet! (Even if you are fictional, and in the future.)
I like XKCD’s view of the landing: