Rosetta and Philae – The afterglow of “that day”.

In a previous post I asked the question if Rosetta and Philae would rekindle the public’s imagination, like comet ISON had done previously.

Well …..blimey !!!!

The answer I’m completely happy to say …. is an unequivocal YES !!!

The first peak in excitement came with Philae’s inital release and start of its journey down to the comets surface. Pictures release later showed a wonderful image (captured with Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera) of the fully deployed Philae lander beginning its descent to the surface.


Set to be a future iconic image ….Philae just after departing Rosetta imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera.

From then on, the tension just ramped up and up.
So many questions for us all to grip our collective chair arms and repeatedly refresh our twitter feeds for …

  • did it land and whether or not it was successful?
  • did the harpoons fire?
  • did the ice screws in the feet grip the surface?

Then a little later, with many theories expounded, alternate hypotheses proposed and conjecture from all angles we found out our favourite little lander had bounced……not just once, but twice!


Philae’s bounce after landing and subsequent resting place. Image courtesy ESA.


By this point, the social media world had gone bonkers. My own twitter feed looked like the London stock exchange ticker and I could barely keep up with the volume of posts.
I was elated.
Not just because they had accomplished “something wonderful” (to paraphrase Dave Bowman from 2001!) by managed to successfully “soft-land” a probe on the surface of a comet 300,000,000 km from earth but that the whole world was sitting up and not only taking notice but joining in and celebrating the landmark scientific success.

Just about every major news broadcast carried the landing as its lead story – just wonderful.

Eventually its was discovered that Philae had settled (at the end of its second bounce) in a shaded area of the comets surface, next to a rock wall. Limited battery life, experimental processes, streaming data and the lack of sunlight to charge the lander via the solar arrays led to the inevitable end that everyone had been dreading. The apparent “death” of little Philae. Sad to watch but expertly managed by the team at ESOC, the bittersweet moment arrived where battery charge was exhausted and Philae went into stasis – all systems powered down into standby or “idle mode”.

What a rollercoater ride!

And according to the ESA Rosetta project director, it might not be over yet !
It has been suggested that as the comet gets closer to the sun, there is a chance that little Philae may yet awaken as more sunlight falls upon is solar panels.
Only time will tell and for now its down to the scientists to process the amazing amount of data gathered by the lander in its short active period on the surface.

But what now? ….is there more? ….what comes next?
Is there a legacy of such a marvellous achievement that can be built on?
I believe most strongly that the answer is YES!
I really hope that the afterglow of such an amazing project is long lasting and bears fruit in the form of further and sustained interest in not only space but in the wider arena of STEM related subjects.

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