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Philae may have scraped a crater during its landing

When the Philae lander touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last month, it may have scraped the rim of a crater with its landing gear.

Russian scientists suspect that the lander grazed a comet after it was deployed from the Rosetta spacecraft on Nov. 12. The Philae lander bounced multiple times before attaching itself to the comet, and its location is now unknown.

Magnetic field data from the Rosetta Lander Magnetometer and Plasma Monitor (ROMAP), which is mounted on the Philae lander, suggests that the legs of the lander scraped what may have been a crater rim after its first bounce. The scrape may have sent the lander spinning away from its intended landing site. The Philae lander is now in a low-power hibernation mode, and scientists are working to determine its exact location.

"It was not a touchdown like the first one, because there was no signature of a vertical deceleration due to a slight dipping of our magnetometer boom as measured during the first and also the final touchdown," ROMAP co-principal investigator Hans-Ulrich Auster said in a statement. "We think that Philae probably touched a surface with one leg only — perhaps grazing a crater rim — and after that the lander was tumbling."