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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 11:39 GMT
Daring comet lander named Philae
Rosetta, Esa
Philae will anchor itself once down on the surface
The small robotic probe that Europe is despatching to land on a comet has been named "Philae" by a 15-year-old girl.

Philae is the island in the river Nile which played a crucial role in cracking the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone to unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt.

The main spacecraft that will carry the lander on its 10-year voyage to the comet has already been named Rosetta.

The duo are due to leave Earth from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana on 26 February atop an Ariane 5 rocket.

Their target is 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a mountainous ball of ice, rock and dust.

The mission will rendezvous with the comet in 2014. The parent Rosetta probe will go into orbit around the object and drop the lander Philae on to its surface.

ROSETTA STONE
Basalt slab carved with Egyptian and Greek inscriptions
Found by French soldiers repairing a fort in Egypt in 1799
Philae Obelisk markings helped decipher stone's hieroglyphs
Successfully opened up ancient Egyptian writings to scholars
Obelisk removed to Kingston Lacy, Dorset, UK, in 1821
Together they will return data on the comet's materials which are believed to be largely unchanged since the formation of the Solar System more than 4.5bn years ago.

The name Philae was proposed by Serena Olga Vismara from Arluno near Milan, Italy.

Her prize for coming up with it will be a trip to Kourou to attend the launch of the Rosetta mission.

It was on the island of Philae that an obelisk was found that had a bilingual inscription including the names of Cleopatra and Ptolemy in Egyptian hieroglyphs.

This provided the French historian Jean-Francois Champollion with the final clues that allowed him to translate the hieroglyphs of the Rosetta Stone and unlock the secrets of the civilisation of ancient Egypt.

Dr Ian Wright is the lead scientist for the Ptolemy instrument on Philae that will use gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to investigate the comet's surface and sub-surface.

Disc, Astrium
The Rosetta mission carries a digital document of writing
"Philae is a very apt name for Rosetta's lander. The whole mission is about unlocking the secrets of the Universe through the study of a comet in the same way that the discovery of the Rosetta Stone enabled the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

"The instruments on Philae may provide the final clue to the Rosetta mission to find out more about how life began on Earth."

A disc engraved with the first three chapters of Genesis in 1,000 native tongues will travel onboard Rosetta.

The main spacecraft has now been fuelled and its rocket put through final assembly and checks at Kourou.

Rosetta is a 600m flagship mission of the European Space Agency.




SEE ALSO:
Arianespace emboldened for 2004
06 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature
Comet dust packed away for Earth
08 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature
Europe gears up for comet chaser
24 Oct 03  |  Science/Nature
Comet chaser costs rise
20 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Engine glitch brought down rocket
07 Jan 03  |  Science/Nature


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