Bumpy landing may have been good for Philae

The OSIRIS instrument aboard Rosetta sees the scuff marks left on the comet by the bouncing Philae lander. [credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team]
The recent landing of the Philae spacecraft on the surface of a comet captivated the world. Now it seems its hair-rising ride also came with a fair amount of good fortune. Matt Taylor, the mission’s colourful project scientist, has been describing how it might have been a good thing that the mission’s harpoons didn’t fire. They were originally designed to anchor Philae to the surface, but they failed, causing the probe to bounce several times off the comet’s icy surface. It has been revealed today that it may have even ‘bounced’ a fourth time. When it finally came to rest, it was able to ascertain that the ice was much harder than previously expected – the harpoons probably wouldn’t have gone in anyway, perhaps even launching the probe back into space.

As it is, Philae is currently nestled on a part of the comet’s surface with one of its legs in the air. Its unintended resting place means it cannot currently get enough sunlight to charge its batteries. However, it is hoped that as the comet edges closer to the Sun the situation might improve and Philae may be roused from its slumber. The faulty harpoons could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise!