Rosetta and Philae send back their first pictures of one another as comet touchdown nears

The lander is expected to touchdown on the comment around 15.30GMT - but we won't hear anything about it until neared to 16.00GMT

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The Independent Online

The Philae lander and Rosetta orbiter have sent back their first pictures of one another as scientists nervously await the lander’s descent to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Philae’s image (above) shows the orbiter and one arm of solar panels with a bright flare from the Sun in the center, while Rosetta’s (below) shows the lander gliding down, it’s central bulk framed by its tripod arms.

It’s expected that Philae will land on the comet’s surface sometime in the next hour, sending back its confirmation to the European Space Agency (ESA) around 16.00pm GMT.

If successful it will be the first ever soft landing on a comet (ie, not crashing at great speed) that humanity has ever achieved. And how's it going so far? A-okay: Philae lander manager Stephan Ulamec commenting that "everything looks really, really good."

Video courtesy of the Open University

Philae is travelling at a gentle 1 meter per second (around 2.2mph) and is relying on a pair of harpoons to anchor to the icy surface the moment it touches down. The gravity on comet 67P/C-G is so slight that without these anchors the lander would simply bounce off the surface.

Of course, once Philae touches down then the real fun will begin, with on-board drills and sensors scanning the comet and surrounding atmosphere to find out more about the mechanisms that created the Solar System – and perhaps even shedding light on the origin of life itself.

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