New results from Philae lander offer first close-up of a comet | Science News

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New results from Philae lander offer first close-up of a comet

Ice and dust inside, 67P’s surface marked by mix of sand, hard rock, craters and cliffs

By
2:06pm, July 30, 2015
Philae

TAKE TWO   Philae’s intended landing spot (left, imaged from 40 meters above the comet’s surface) was soft and sandy. A two-hour-long bounce dropped it in a craggy pit (right, with lander leg at bottom) where the ground is as hard as pumice.

During its brief time awake on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander documented a diverse world. New analyses of lander data reveal the comet as uniform on the inside, but full of variety on the outside. Pebbles, boulders, cliffs and pits blanket the forbidding landscape. Complex organic molecules float above a surface that is as soft as sand in some places and as hard as rock in others.

Not too shabby for a lander that bounced, tumbled, bounced again, fell in a hole and landed on its side. For nearly 60 hours, Philae learned all it could about its new home before running out of power and slipping into a seven-month slumber from which it only recently awoke. The specifics of Philae’s rough landing along with a first look at data from last year appear in seven papers online July 30 in Science.

“Every time we take a good look at a comet, it looks totally different than what we’ve looked at before,” says Anita Cochran, a

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