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C H R I S T M A S    L E C T U R E 2020


"Philae lands in skull-top crevice: An engineering & scientific detective story"

By Laurence O'Rourke,

of ESA, Madrid, Spain.

7PM Monday 14th of December.

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This lecture will be presented on the ZOOM platform in line with Public Health Guidelines.

Laurence O'Rourke will present the results of his Nature paper published on the 28th October last which covers the discovery of super soft 4.5 billions-of-years-old ice on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko thanks to the Rosetta Mission.

The speaker will summarise the work carried out to prove that the Philae lander touched down on skull-top ridge digging into two cometary boulders and exposing their icy interior, which is softer than cappuccino froth or the foam on the waves on the seashore. The porosity found inside the cometary boulders was equivalent to that found for the interior of the comet itself. This is an engineering and scientific detective story which started in August 2016, when a strange ice feature was spotted in two images taken as part of Philae's search campaign.

ESA's Laurence O'Rourke, who played the leading role in  finding Philae  in the first instance, was also determined to locate the previously undiscovered second touchdown site.




Laurence O'Rourke is from Mullingar and has being working in the European Space Agency since 1996, located at 3 of its establishments (ESTEC, ESOC and currently ESAC in Madrid) as an Engineer and a Scientist. In ESTEC he worked on the Teamsat satellite before moving to ESOC in Germany in 1998. There he worked for four years on the Envisat Earth Observation satellite before switching to Rosetta where he was part of the flight control team in ESOC at the time of its launch in 2004. After launch he moved to Spain (ESAC) to work on the Integral mission (ESA Gamma Ray observatory) followed by the Herschel mission (ESA Infrared Space observatory). On Herschel he was the deputy science operations manager for the mission. In 2011 he began working once more on the Rosetta mission and was one of two Science Operations Managers leading the team that scheduled the instrument activities on the satellite.
When the Rosetta mission ended on the 30th September 2016, he moved on to work on the PLATO Exoplanet searching mission where he is currently working as Science Operations Coordinator and Senior System Engineer.

He has published various science articles on comets and asteroids including two in Nature, the most recent published in October 2020 covering the discovery of super soft ice on a comet, and the second in 2014 which was the first confirmed detection of water in the asteroid belt, namely on Dwarf Planet (1) Ceres. Based upon the 2014 paper he was awarded the O'Rourke asteroid by the IAU. He has also received from the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) the Laurels for Team Achievement Award for his work on the Philae lander.
He has given numerous public talks around the world over the years including 2 TEDx talks.


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Booking Information


Monday 14th December




This Lecture will be presented via ZOOM which you can download HERE You must however book in advance below. Details on how join in the lecture will be sent to you in advance of the lecture.


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Laurence ORourke Lecture December 2020
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Acknowledgment: Astronomy Ireland would like to thank the TCD Astrophysics Research Group for hosting our live Astronomy Ireland public lectures in Trinity College Dublin. 




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