After an amazing ten year journey, the Rosetta mission landed its module Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at 16:03 GMT on Wednesday.
Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 on an Ariane 5 rocket, and has already made history by becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet after it reached its long-awaited destination on August 6th 2014.
Philae’s landing was not a smooth one, and it is currently positioned on its side with one leg in the air, a result that is something of a disappointment after its epic journey. The unfortunate lander is also thought to be wedged against the bottom of a cliff, which is impeding its progress still further. Various measures are being taken to try and get the module back on its feet; it is equipped with a selection of mechanical instruments which could be utilised to stabilise the vehicle. Despite its difficulties, Philae has still managed to send some decent images back home to Earth, though it has only a limited 64 hour battery life available.
Once these batteries run down Philae will be relying on solar panels, but its position in a shady nook may seriously compromise its future power supply. It has therefore been a race against time to gather as much scientific data as possible before the battery’s charge dies.
Obtaining surface samples may now also be difficult as Philae will not be able to use its scientific drill; in such a low gravity environment, drilling while unanchored could destabilize the whole lander altogether. Unless there is a universal miracle, the hapless Philae will have only hours instead of months to study the comet, although it was hoped that it could continue to operate until March 2015, when the comet would be veering closer toward the sun and conditions would become intensely hot. So with time running out scientists working on Philae comet lander have declared that it is now worth taking risks with the probe while its battery is still live, as it is believed that the robot may be entering its last day of useable power on icy 67P.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is therefore due to upload commands that will instruct Philae to deploy its drill to obtain samples for analysis in its own onboard laboratories.
Paolo Ferri, the head of mission operations at the European Space Agency stated that Friday’s activities would be critical.
"We’re coming to the end so we’re taking more risks. But we’re super happy with what we’ve done up until now. I can’t tell you exactly how much this lander has achieved but it is close to 100%.
"What’s missing is the drilling. But with time running out, we’re taking risks."
Dr Ferri is refusing to give up hope that some last minute solution can be found to solve the power situation: "I am sure our colleagues at the main lander control centre in Cologne will come up with creative ways to collect this energy."
Whatever happens, the setbacks have not meant that the mission has been a complete failure; Philae has already sent back a wealth of data and photos back to Earth, and its presence there is an achievement in itself. Only time will tell, but it was hoped that the mission would provide the answers to some of astronomer’s most eternal questions, the most obvious and enduring of which is: "are we alone in the universe?"
Jean-Pierre Bibring, an astrophysicist who has worked on the Rosetta mission for over twenty years, believes that answer to the crucial question of our very existence could be found on that humble comet’s surface, as Philae’s investigation of the comet’s ice and rock may give clues to the origins of our solar system.
But there are also those who believe that this question may be answered in an unexpected fashion, and that the space mission is not all it has been publicised to be. Conspiracy theories are rife regarding the true nature of the comet and the Rosetta mission. Information published on the website UFOSightingsDaily.com opines that the mission is part of a European Space Agency and Nasa cover-up to disguise the fact that the comet is of an alien nature, and that the project was really put together in order to investigate a peculiar signal detected ten years before the mission was launched.
Rosetta’s Plasma Consortium (RPC) uncovered a mysterious ‘song’ that Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was singing into space in the form of oscillations in the magnetic field in the comet’s environment.The "song" is being sung at 40-50 millihertz, far below human hearing. The "song" can be heard here.
Back on September 29, a UFO Sightings Daily post titled: “NASA Records Radio Signals Coming From Comet 67P For Over 20 Years!” suggested that information had been received from an anonymous ESA whistleblower who confirmed in an email that the mystery signal was detected twenty years ago by NASA and this was the true reason behind the Rosetta mission. The post, written by Scott Waring, was broadly criticized at the time and generally debunked, but the ESA have apparently confirmed that Waring was right.
To add further weight to the conspiracy theory, a September 10 photo from the Rosetta mission showed what appeared to be a radio tower and a possible UFO on the surface of Comet 67P. This photo was one of a number referred to by the whistleblower, and suggests that a mystery really does hang over the purpose of the Rosetta mission. Popular conspiratorial opinion is that the tower-like object is the source of the radio signals and suggests that extra-terrestrial intelligence is involved. There has also been some conjecture that the amount of money invested in the project far outweighs the potential scientific benefits that can be achieved by the comet landing.
If the signal really was detected so long before the Rosetta mission was launched, was its real purpose to make contact? Is this why Philae has allegedly had so many problems, so that there is an excuse for the limited data that is being returned, allowing its real purpose to be disguised?
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