Rosetta’s Philae lander captures first images from comet’s surface

Mission scientists are still trying to pinpoint exactly where the probe ended up after rebounding twice on Comet 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko.
By | Published: November 13, 2014 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Rosetta’s lander Philae is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as these first two CIVA images confirm. One of the lander’s three feet can be seen in the foreground.
This image from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shows the Philae lander nearly two hours after separation. The image shows details of the lander, including the deployment of the three legs and of the antennas.
This image was taken by Philae’s down-looking descent ROLIS imager when it was about 130 feet (40 meters) above the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
It shows that the surface of the comet is covered by dust and debris ranging from millimeter to meter sizes.
The large block in the top right corner is 16 feet (5m) in size. In the same corner the structure of the Philae landing gear is visible.

Now more than 24 hours past its separation from the Rosetta spacecraft, the Philae lander finds itself in an interesting position on the surface of Comet 67P/Churuymov-Gerasimenko. According to mission scientists, the probe officially landed three times on the comet: an initial touchdown, a first rebound of almost two hours, which likely caused Philae to reach up to 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) above 67P’s surface, and a second jump that lasted about seven minutes.

According to John-Pierre Bibring, principal investigator for Philae’s CIVA instrument, scientists don’t know exactly where Philae is at the moment, but data suggest the lander is likely on the other side of a crater at the head of Comet 67P opposite where Philae initially touched down. Initial photos from the CIVA instrument also indicate that the lander is in the shadow of a cliff and possibly positioned almost vertically, with one foot in open space and the other two on the ground.

“It was a huge leap,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center. “We may be in the rim of the crater. That might explain the bizarre orientation.”

At the moment, though, Philae continues to take important data with some of its instruments, and its images are providing valuable information as well. These instruments are currently being powered by batteries, but the lander was designed to rely on solar energy to operate for an extended amount of time. Due to the shadow Philae appears to be in, mission scientists are calculating what this means for the near future. As of now, according to Ulamec, the team is hesitant to do any mechanical actuation, including using Philae’s drill, because they don’t know how any movement would affect the positioning of the lander.

More detail will come as Rosetta continues to relay information from Philae to Earth. Data breaks come when Rosetta is beyond Philae’s horizon as the spacecraft continues to orbit Comet 67P.
Rosetta’s lander Philae has returned the first panoramic image from the surface of a comet, shown at left. The view, unprocessed, as it has been captured by the CIVA-P imaging system, shows a 360° view around the point of final touchdown. The three feet of Philae’s landing gear can be seen in some of the frames. At right, superimposed on top of the image is a sketch of the Philae lander in the configuration the lander team currently believe it is in.