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For Comet Landing, 'J' Marks the Spot

Robot will get one shot to touch down on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2014 8:42 AM CDT
For Comet Landing, 'J' Marks the Spot
In this picture taken on Aug. 3, 2014 by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is shown.   (AP Photo/ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team)

(Newser) – Europe's space agency has finally decided exactly where on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko it's going to attempt to land a robot—and in this case, "J" marks the spot. The robot, called Philae, is currently being carried by the space probe Rosetta, which is orbiting 67P after a decade-long pursuit. Experts had to find a relatively smooth area on the "ice mountain" (which also happens to be rubber-duck shaped) that would be hospitable to Philae, the BBC reports. They chose a spot, identified using the letter "J", on the smaller of the comet's two lobes. If the landing, set for Nov. 11, is successful, Philae will lock onto the 2.5-mile-wide comet with help from harpoons and screws, the BBC notes.

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But it won't be easy: "None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100% level," says the landing manager, who notes the "relatively flat" site that was chosen does have some cliffs and boulders. Further, the comet is currently about 273 million miles away from Earth, and due to that distance, the lander can't be controlled in real time. Rather, the landing commands will be uploaded to Philae days in advance. Should the landing be successful, Philae will study the comet, checking temperatures, collecting samples, and sending radio waves through 67P to investigate its insides, the Daily Mail reports. (Read more Rosetta stories.)

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