Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

"Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by."

Earlier this week, the Rosetta spacecraft reached the end of a ten year journey and delivered the Philae lander to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After a bouncy landing in the open planes, the lander came to rest too close to a cliff to recharge its batteries with solar panels. This caused the computers on the washing-machine sized vehicle to power down into hibernation mode. Mission scientists are hopeful that it may yet achieve a better position relative to our sun and charge its batteries enough to wake up. But, for now, it must slumber in deep heavenly, frigid, peace.

Meanwhile, the comet, barely perturbed by the added weight and jostlings to its orbital path, continues on in a slow arc around the sun. This trajectory will sling it close to the sun and then hurl it back out beyond the orbit of Jupiter. The Rosetta spacecraft, like a dog whose master has died, will remain close beside, looking for some sign of life. The little lander that could is now one more piece of interplanetary material circling the sun and waving to earth as it flies by each 6.5 years. As it sails past we salute the spirit of those who served her so long and so well. We greet with honour this marvel of engineering that has once more excited dreams of far off worlds and places unexplored.

"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. . . . sleep in heavenly peace."

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