I arrived in Darmstadt, Germany yesterday and headed straight to the European Space Operations Centre, the base for ESA's spacecraft operations and my workplace for the next week. I'm here, of course, to cover the exciting Philae landing on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko; the seven-hour descent will take place during the day Wednesday here. There was a press briefing yesterday afternoon, but there is little news to report, which is the way it should be. Both spacecraft are ready. Philae is ready. The team is tired, but ready. Today, the team will begin working on shifts, 24 hours a day, until Philae's first science sequence is complete. There are currently no changes to the Philae timeline I posted last week. I'll do any updates and repost that article this evening, when the first significant event happens: the lander powers on at 18:05 UT. Less than 24 hours after that, if all goes well, Philae will be starting its surface science.
Mostly my visit to ESOC yesterday allowed me to greet old friends among both ESA staff and international space media. As the day wound down in Europe, the space media here in Darmstadt jealously watched the tweets coming in from a scientific session at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Tucson, where the first results from Rosetta's work at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko were being presented. We're not there and there is no webcast, so all we can do is be tantalized by the excited tweets coming from scientists at the meeting. I'd like it if there were at least a little bit of coverage of this at ESOC today, but I'm not too hopeful. So a distant second-best thing is to share some of these excited tweets with you, and provide context as needed. Here goes:
The first presentation was by Nicholas Thomas, on albedo and color variations on comet 67P as observed by OSIRIS. I've been dying to see more OSIRIS data -- only a handful of photos have been released, and none of them is in color. It's killing me that I didn't get to see the pictures that had a packed roomful of scientists repeatedly break into spontaneous applause today.
Dunes made from saltating grains? Mud volcanoes? What is this, Mars?
Anyway. The next talk was by Ceric Leyrat, also representing the OSIRIS team. His work was evidently based upon color maps of the nucleus, which I really, really wish I could have seen. They sound amazing.
It's interesting that Rosetta team members are asking the speakers (other Rosetta team members) about the findings they are presenting.— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) November 10, 2014
Next up were a couple of presentations from the MIRO instrument, including ones by Mark Hofstadter and by Seungwon Lee, which focused on the comet's outgassing activity:
At some point someone asked the question that's been burning in all our minds:
In a more serious mode:
Next up came several presentations by Alan Stern, Lori Feaga, and Paul Feldman on surface and coma results from Rosetta's ultraviolet imager, ALICE -- which has a sister instrument on New Horizons, by the way.
Finally, two talks from the VIRTIS team about the nucleus of the comet in infrared wavelenghts, given by Fabrizio Capaccioni and Pierre Drossart:
All in all, it sounds like an amazing data set, and I'm looking forward to writing up the science when I get a chance to hear and see it first-hand. In the meantime, though, I've got a comet landing to watch. Stay tuned -- I'll have more to report later today!