As the Philae lander plunged down to land on a comet in 2014, it captured a view of the great comet closer than any had ever seen. Now a new video lets viewers ride along, showing exactly what the lander saw as it descended.
The sequence, based on seven near-surface images taken by the ROLIS camera during descent, smooths out the "gaps" between pictures for a seamless, vivid video.
The European Space Agency put together the video to celebrate the one-year anniversary of choosing Philae's prime landing site. After a rough landing, Philae fell silent for the rest of 2014, but "woke up" earlier this year and was able to transmit data. [Philae Comet Lander's Big Bounce Captured in Amazing Photos]
Watching Philae's descent onto Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, viewers see the surface getting closer in the camera as Philae drops from 67 meters (219 feet) to 9 meters (29.5 feet) in real-time. The video does not show the actual touchdown, which occurs about 10 seconds after the last image was taken, or the two-hour long rebound after Philae touched down at its original landing site, Agilkia. Due to a harpoon failure, the lander drifted before coming to a rest in a more shaded area called Abydos. It was able to wake up and re-contact Earth, via the Rosetta orbiter that delivered it to the surface, once the comet approached close enough to the sun to light its landing area.
While some small sections were removed due to data dropouts, the video is an approximation of what the lander saw as it arrived at the comet.
Meanwhile, the Rosetta orbiter continues its scientific observations, and will do so until next year. Comet 67P passed its closest point to the sun in August, an event that will prompt a few weeks of heightened activity.