‘Agilkia’ has been announced as the new name for the spot on comet 7P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko’ where the Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae lander will aim to touch down next week.
The name was selected by a jury of boffins from the Philae Lander Steering Committee after a public competition organized by ESA to find a suitable moniker for the area of dusty comet that the probe will hope to call home as of Wednesday next week.
So why Agilkia? To save you scouring your maps of Egypt, the short answer is that it is the name of an island in the Nile River. The real, Earth-bound Agilkia is now home to some of the iconic buildings, such as the Temple of Isis, that used to be on the island of Philae.
The island of Philae was flooded during the building of the Aswan dams. Agilkia was suggested by many of the entrants – over 150, says ESA – but in the end it was Alexandre Brouste from France who was named as the person to receive the prize, which is a trip to Darmstadt, Germany, to watch the comet landing live from the European Space Operations Centre.
The competition saw over 8,000 entries from 150 countries in all kinds of languages, including Esperanto. Other suggestions for the site name included Qapla, the Klingon word for ‘success’.
The winning choice is perfectly in-keeping with the Rosetta mission’s family of names, as Philae was the island where the Rosetta Stone was found. That stone was the key to unlocking the secrets of ancient Egyptian civilizations, and it is hoped that the Rosetta mission will allow scientists to make a similar leap as they seek to unlock the secrets of the formation of our solar system.
Comets are special to science because they are some of the most primitive bodies in our solar system. They’re so old they offer a record of the molecules that were present when our planet was formed 4.5 billion years ago. So if we can understand comets, we’re a step closer to understanding ourselves.
However, before the experts can jangle those keys to enlightenment, they need to land on a comet. Nobody has ever done so before, and the level of stress, excitement and apprehension amongst Europe’s cometary scientists is at fever pitch.
Insiders, observers and armchair science pundits alike can all agree that there’s a chance Philae won’t make it, that it will bounce off the comet, be knocked sideways by a boulder, or disappear into a deep cushion of comet dust on landing.
Just how large the chance of success is depends on who you ask. But you can be reassured that if Philae manages to screw itself down and take a panorama picture of the comet surface then just about everyone in Darmstadt will be doing a little dance in celebration.
The whole landing event will be covered live by Euronews in 13 languages across all our broadcast and multimedia platforms.