Take a Trip to Comet 67P in This Awesome Video from the Philae Lander

Philae's Descent Video Still
A still frame shows an image from a video that used Philae lander's descent images to depict its approach to Comet 67P. Video released Sept. 15, 2015. (Image credit: Original descent sequence images: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR, Stefano Mottola)

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.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace