Philae lander’s touchdown error gives ESA unexpected data on Comet 67

(REUTERS) - The European Space Agency’s Philae lander’s botched comet touchdown has produced a silver lining, as it has allowed the lander to take important measurements in two separate spots instead of one, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Philae lander attempted to land on comet P67/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov 12 in an area later named Agilkia, but its anchoring harpoons and retro-rockets failed, resulting in the lander bouncing off the comet and landing on another spot later named Abydos.

Thanks to the bouncing trajectory data, researchers were able to analyze not one but two sites, and found that Agilkia is made of a softer surface layer of dust and ice, while the crust at Abydos is much harder.

If Philae had landed in its intended spot at Agilkia, it would have been fried by the sun many months ago.

In its current location however, it was able to restart and discover that the comet has daily temperature swings, from about minus 296 degrees to minus 226 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 182 to minus 143 deg C), and that it is made up of 16 organic molecular species, four of which had never being found on comets.

It also discovered that the comet’s surface contains radiation-caused formaldehyde polymer, which is considered an important discovery as many scientists believe that the chemical building blocks for life on Earth might have been delivered by a comet.

The Rosetta mission team hasn’t heard from Philae for weeks since it sent messages upon waking up from hibernation. The team hopes more data will eventually be sent, but if not, they are content with the amount of information that was received so far.