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Comet Landing Zone Finally Selected

Sep 15, 2014 11:36 AM EDT
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After considerable deliberation, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta mission team has finally chosen the spot where the Philae Lander will set down. The lander will detach from the Rosetta comet-chasing spacecraft and alight onto the carefully selected part of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko this November.

The landing zone, called Site J, was selected out of five promising sites highlighted by ESA and NASA experts just last month after the Rosetta spacecraft finally entered the "comet rendezvous" stage of it's mission.

According to Sgtephan Ulamec, the Philae Lander Manager, even out of those specially chosen sites, none met all the operational criteria for an ideal landing and experimental zone.

"As we have seen from recent close-up images, the comet is a beautiful but dramatic world - it is scientifically exciting, but its shape makes it operationally challenging," he said in a recent release. "But site J is clearly the best solution."

One of the main selling points about this landing zone is not its safety for the craft, but its potential for scientific results.

"Site J in particular offers us the chance to analyze pristine material, characterize the properties of the [comet's] nucleus, and study the processes that drive its activity," added Jean-Pierre Bibring, a lead lander scientist and principal investigator of the Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer (CIVA) instrument, which will take panoramas from the Philae lander. "We will make the first ever in situ analysis of a comet at this site, giving us an unparalleled insight into the composition, structure and evolution of a comet."

The Rosetta spacecraft has reportedly moved into an orbit of less than 20 miles from the comet's surface, and is closing in fast. Once even closer, the Philae lander will deploy to alight onto Site J, where it will stay analyzing the surface until August of 2015 - when the comet will be drawing too close to the Sun for Rosetta to stay.

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