Everyone’s favourite underdog lander, Philae, was travelling at about 49cm per second as she zoomed towards the formidable chunk of ice and rock known as 67P. That was slow enough that her mothership Rosetta was actually able to capture the descent in images released today by the ESA.
These images were shot using Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, one of several imaging systems on board, which is apparently capable of capturing images of the comet at an incredibly fine-grained two centimeters per pixel. The ESA says these photos are actually 28cm/pixel, shot as Rosetta as Philae drifted eastward down to the comet. As you probably already know, Philae then “bounced” back up into space not just once but twice, eventually coming to rest in the shadow-y spot where it’s currently offline, awaiting sunlight like a robotic sleeping beauty.
As sad as Philae’s current situation is, it’s worth taking a moment to consider just how extraordinary the fact of her landing is at all. Not to mention the idea that, 311 million miles away from where you sit at your computer right now, another spacecraft was able to photograph it.