Landing on comets and moons

Thursday 8th January 2015 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00

Professor David Southwood, Senior Research Investigator, Department of Physics, former Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, European Space Agency




Ten years after the European Huygens probe landed on Titan and a few weeks after Philae’s landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, we review what we are learning from space missions and the latest from Rosetta.



More than 30 years ago a group of American and European scientists started planning a space mission to orbit Saturn and to land on its moon, Titan. The spacecraft and its lander from the Cassini-Huygens mission were launched 15 years ago.

Professor Southwood led the building of Imperial’s magnetometer for the Cassini Saturn Orbiter spacecraft and, at ESA, was responsible for the Huygens lander team.

January 2015 is a terrifically significant date – it will be ten years ago this month since the landing of the European Huygens probe on Titan.

The mothership continues to orbit Saturn exploring what is a very complex planetary system of moons, rings, dust, magnetic fields around the planet as well as the observing the mysteries of the planetary atmosphere. The mission ends in 2017 with a dramatic plunge that is a final exploration of the planet's magnetism and gravity but will end with the spacecraft's destruction.


After 10 years, and a journey of more than six billion kilometres, the Rosetta spacecraft sent its fridge-sized Philae lander down to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014.

Philae bounced when it hit the comet and came to rest in an area where it cannot get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries. So, after about 60 hours of experiments, the little lander is now in standby mode, "sleeping".

Analysis of Philae's data continues and Rosetta maintains its orbit around the comet, sending back data of its own. Scientists hope the mission could help unlock answers about the formation of the Solar System, the origins of water on Earth and perhaps even life itself.

Comets are considered the primitive building blocks of the Solar System, and likely helped ‘seed’ the Earth with water, and maybe even life. By studying the nature of the comet’s dust and gas, Rosetta will help scientists learn more about the role of comets in the evolution of the Solar System.

Rosetta is making the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. It will follow the comet on its journey through the inner Solar System, measuring the increase in activity as the icy surface is warmed up by the Sun.

Professor David Southwood is the former director of science at the European Space Agency, and the current President of the Royal Astronomical. He is a Senior Research investigator at Imperial College London and former Director of Science and Robotic Exploration at the European Space Agency.

Professor Southwood will describe both the scientific and technical highlights of the Cassini-Huygens mission as well as some of the low points in what has been an odyssey for the team involved. He will also enlighten us on the progress of Rosetta and the initial findings from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.


Optionally followed by supper (this can be booked on the event booking form).
After the lecture a Friends' Table has been reserved at a local restaurant to entertain the speaker and for any of the audience who would like to join us to continue the evening's discussion. A two-course fixed price supper is served including wine, coffee and service charge.
Or if you have already booked for the event and now want to join us for supper Book Supper now

Venue: SAF Building, Imperial College London

Campus Map reference 33
on the Imperial College London Map