Philae at rest in the shadows in the top right corner of this image
Philae at rest in the shadows in the top right corner of this image of the ‘not a snowball’ comet

That long missing first ever comet lander Philae has finally been found in a rocky alcove on the surface of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

If only finding MH370 was as easy, and not lying possibly hidden among complex features thousands of metres under water in the sunless depths of the southern Indian Ocean.

The European Space Agency has published a detailed and illustrated account of the discovery, which comes as the ‘mother ship’ for the Rosetta comet mission prepares to make a very slow motion crash landing on the surface of 67P on September 3o.

Philae was released from comet orbiter Rosetta on November 12, 2014, but although its touch down was feather light, it bounced several times and eventually lodged in a very dark place.

Knowing exactly where Philae came to rest and how it is oriented on the surface will help scientists understand the limited data and photos the lander sent back before its batteries failed. It had been intended to work for a month at least using power captured by its solar panels.

The Rosetta mission revealed that comet 67P, which orbits the sun more than ten times as frequently as Halleys Comet, is anything but the pristine giant cosmic snowball dating unchanged back to the beginnings of the solar system as too many commentators had claimed.

It didn’t contain pristine water molecules like those that made Earth’s oceans, it had a rock hard surface in places similar in texture to granite, and exhibited a whole range of characteristics which made it incompatible with many last century assumptions about what comets really are.

Like most space missions, Rosetta generated far more new questions than answers, but has helped put research into the natural history of the solar system onto a much firmer footing than before.

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