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Comet probe Philae's landing site renamed 'Agilkia'

"It couldn’t be a more appropriate name," ESA's Fred Jansen said.

By Brooks Hays
Rosetta’s Philae lander will aim for a site on the head of the comet. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)
Rosetta’s Philae lander will aim for a site on the head of the comet. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

LONDON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- One of the most significant space missions since man first set foot on the moon is nearing crunch time. Rosetta, the European Space Agency's comet-seeking probe, is only eight days away from releasing its landing rover Philae.

Philae will attempt to execute a soft-landing onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And with anticipation of the first-of-its-kind mission mounting, engineers finally decided the name "J" for the rover's landing spot simply wasn't going to cut it. After fielding several thousand suggestions, members of the Philae Lander Steering Committee decided to go with "Agilkia."

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Agilkia is the name of an Egyptian island in the middle of the Nile River. It became the home of the famed Temple of Isis after its original island home, Philae, was flooded as a result of the construction of the Aswan Dam in 1902.

"And it couldn't be a more appropriate name," ESA's Fred Jansen said in a press release. "The relocation of the temples of Philae Island to Agilkia Island was an ambitious technical endeavor performed in the 1960s and 1970s to preserve an archaeological record of our ancient history."

The name, announced Tuesday by the ESA, was supposed to be revealed on Monday, but officials needed an extra 24 hours to finalize the decision after receiving an overwhelming number of suggestions.

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"The decision was very tough," said Felix Huber, a researcher at the German Aerospace Center. "We received so many good suggestions on how to name Site J, and we were delighted with such an enthusiastic response from all over the world. We wish to thank all participants for sharing their great ideas with us."

Now, with a newly named landing location, Rosetta and Philae are ready to make history. On Friday, Rosetta fired its boosters and moved into a wider orbit -- from 6 to 19 miles -- in preparation for its descent next week. On November 12, Rosetta will move back toward the comet's nucleus, from 19 to 3 miles. At 14 miles out, Rosetta will release the lander Philae, which will descend toward the Agilkia landing site on the head of the comet.

Once landed, the rover will attempt to collect samples and analyze the comet's surface composition and geological structure.

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