Science & Environment

Rosetta comet mission: Landing site named 'Agilkia'

67P Image copyright ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
Image caption Site "J", now called "Agilkia", is on the head of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The landing site on a comet to be targeted by Europe's Philae robot on 12 November has been named "Agilkia" following a public competition.

It continues the Egyptian theme for the mission - being an island in the Nile.

Philae will be ejected towards Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by its carrier spacecraft, Rosetta, on the morning of 12 November.

If successful, it will be a historic first - no probe has ever soft-landed on one of these icy bodies before.

Controllers at the European Space Agency's operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, hope to get a positive signal from the robot at just after 1600 GMT (1700 CET).

Until now, the chosen landing zone on the "head" of duck-shaped 67P has been known simply as "J" - a reference to its position on a list of possible destinations in the landing site selection process.

The new name - Agilkia - refers to a patch of high ground in the Nile River south of Egypt.

It is the place where ancient Egyptian buildings, including the famous Temple of Isis, were moved when their previous home, the island of Philae, was flooded during the building of the Aswan dams last century.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Buildings were moved from Philae island to Agilkia

Philae also refers to the obelisk taken from the drowned island which, along with the Rosetta Stone, was used to crack the meaning of ancient hieroglyphs.

One hundred and fifty people suggested the name Agilkia in the competition, with a committee nominating Alexandre Brouste from France as the overall winner.

Everyone who entered had to write an accompanying short essay, and his impressed the judges most.

Mr Brouste will now be invited to Darmstadt's "mission control" to follow the landing event in person.

Rosetta will be some 580 million km from Earth when it drops the piggybacked Philae over the comet.

The descent is expected to take about seven hours.

If the robot manages to latch on to the surface with screws and harpoons, it will begin a series of experiments to analyse the composition and structure of 67P.

Its data, along with pictures, will be beamed up to Rosetta for onward transmission to Earth.

Scientists believe comets to contain pristine materials left over from the formation of the Solar System more than 4.5 billion years ago.

Image copyright ESA
Image caption Philae will examine the surface composition and structure and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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