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article imageESA selects name for landing site on 'smelly' comet

By Robert Myles     Nov 5, 2014 in Science
Berne - The projected landing site where the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta comet lander is due to make comet-fall next week now has a name.
The region of Comet 67P/ Churyumov–Gerasimenko where, all being well, Rosetta’s Philae lander will touch down Nov. 12, is now known as “Agilkia”.
The announcement that the landing site, previously known only as ‘Site J,’ now had a new name was made by the ESA, Monday. The site has been called after Agilkia Island, an island on the river Nile in southern Egypt. Agilkia Island is celebrated as the location of a number of ancient Egyptian buildings, including the world-renowned Temple of Isis, that were painstakingly moved, piece by piece, to Agilkia from the island of Philae before Philae became submerged as a result of the construction of the Aswan dams on the river Nile.
Close-up of the region containing Philae’s primary landing site J  which is located on the ‘head...
Close-up of the region containing Philae’s primary landing site J, which is located on the ‘head’ of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The mosaic comprises two images taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 14 September 2014 from a distance of about 30 km.
The name, Agilkia, came out tops with a jury comprising members of the Philae Lander Steering Committee following the ESA having invited nominations for a suitable name from members of the public.
Over 150 individuals came up with “Agilkia” as a suitable name and the Steering Committee selected a nomination from Frenchman, Alexandre Brouste as the overall winner. To celebrate his success, Mr Brouste will be invited to ESA’s Space Operations Control Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to watch, live, the Philae lander’s touchdown on comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko next Tuesday.
In all the ESA received 8000 entries from 135 countries in less than a week proposing names for Philae’s landing site. Names for the landing site varied from the ancient to the modern, with some participants opting for the international language, Esperanto, as a source for a suitable name for the landing site.
Many of the names echoed the Egyptian origins of Rosetta and Philae recognised milestones in the successful decoding of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
A comet badly in need of a shower
The closing date for submission of entries came too early to be influenced by results, reported Oct. 23, from Rosetta’s Orbiter Spectrometer indicating that comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko suffers from a number of bad smells.
The ESA reports that not only does Churyumov–Gerasimenko have the malodorous misfortune to stink of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide), but it also carries the unmistakable scents of horse manure (ammonia) and the pungent suffocating odor of formaldehyde.
Added into this the mix, according to the ESA, are the faint, bitter, almond-like aroma of hydrogen cyanide, a whiff of methanol (methylated spirits) and the vinegary-like aroma of sulfur dioxide. On the plus side, there’s something of a sweetener as a hint of the aromatic scent of carbon disulfide has also been detected.
Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s pungency is diluted, however, since the density of these various smells is very low. Most of the comet’s coma — what passes for an atmosphere of a comet, the nebulous envelope around the comet’s nucleus that expands as the comet approached the Sun — comprises sparkling water (water and carbon dioxide molecules) mixed with carbon monoxide.
Not Chanel No.5
Explaining the significance of the various smells and chemicals detected by Rosetta’s Orbiter Spectrometer, Kathrin Altwegg, from the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH) of the University of Bern, commented, “This all makes a scientifically enormously interesting mixture in order to study the origin of our solar system material, the formation of our Earth and the origin of life”.
Altwegg was philosophical about Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s olfactory offensiveness, adding, “After all: it seems like comet Churyumov was indeed attracted by comet Gerasimenko to form Churyumov-Gerasimenko, even though its perfume may not be Chanel No 5, but comets clearly have their own preferences.”
More about Esa, Rosetta comet chaser, rosetta mission, comet lander, Philae comet lander
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