Dawn of the Comet Lander: Philae and Rosetta Make History

Witness the historic landing, part of a mission to study the heavens and find clues about the origins of life on Earth.

Event Details


Chabot Space & Science Center
10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland, California 94619 United States


November 12, 2014 from 6:00 am to 8:30 am America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)



Rosetta is the European Space Agency’s (ESA) comet-chasing spacecraft, launched into the skies over a decade ago. In August, it rendezvoused with the 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko comet after a 4-billion-mile trip. It’s giant solar arrays outstretched like wings, Rosetta is collecting samples and studying the gasses and dust near the comet (even snapping a selfie). But on November 12, the spacecraft will deliver its payload and attempt the first-ever soft landing on a comet with Philae, its lander.

Comets are known to contain ancient material leftover from the formation of the solar system. These icy bodies are even suspected of bringing the first water to Earth billions of years ago—could they have also brought life? Rosetta and Philae’s mission is to study the comet’s make-up and search for clues about the history of the heavens and the origins of life on Earth.

Join us at Chabot Space & Science Center to witness the historic landing of Philae and hear from experts live in Europe and the US.


6:00 am doors open, breakfast provided by swissnex San Francisco
6:30 am introduction by Ben Burress, Chabot staff astronomer, and Laura Welcher, Director of the Rosetta Project at the Long Now Foundation
7:00 am live Skype with Kathrin Altwegg from the European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt
7:30 am – 8:00 am expected landing time of Philae (Communication delay included)

Note: Because of the difficulty of the mission, this schedule is subject to change.


Consider carpooling to the event!


Kathrin Altwegg

Kathrin Altwegg is an Associate Professor at the Physics Institute, at the University of Bern, and Executive Director of the Center for Space and Habitability. She is the project leader for ROSINA, two mass spectrometers aboard Rosetta determining the makeup of the 67P comet. Altwegg has over 25 years of experience in developing mass spectrometers for comet missions, in data analysis of mass spectrometers and in cometary science. She has proven performance in the scientific, engineering, and program management aspects of delivering these instruments on schedule, at cost, without having to incorporate any descopes or changes in planned performance.

Ben Burress

Ben Burress has been a Chabot staff astronomer since July 1999, 13 months before the opening of Chabot’s state-of-the-art facility. After graduating from Sonoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in physics (minoring in astronomy), Burress signed on for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps, where he taught physics and mathematics in Cameroon. From 1989-96, he was a crew member of NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA – the program is credited with the discovery of the rings of Uranus. There he flew semi-weekly eight-hour missions above 41,000 feet (clear of Earth’s troposphere) in a specially modified C-141 “Starlifter” military cargo plane in order to take infrared readings of astronomical objects.

From 1996-99, Burress helped pioneer the Naval Prototype Optical Interferometer program at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, the facility where Pluto was discovered. The interferometer program, the first of its kind, allows astronomers to simulate a telescope of enormous breadth (and power) by combining readings from two telescopes in different locations. Burress is an accomplished public speaker whose unique style and easy manner cuts through scientific jargon and makes him a popular interview subject.

Laura Welcher

Laura Welcher, Ph.D. is the Director of The Rosetta Project at the Long Now Foundation, which sent a Rosetta Disk carrying an archive of over 1,500 human languages aboard the ESA’s Rosetta probe a decade ago. Welcher comes to the Long Now project with a background in linguistics, focusing on the documentation and revitalization of some of the most critically endangered indigenous languages of North America. She has a strong interest in the role that technology (computers, internet, mobile devices) can play in supporting global linguistic diversity, and in helping create a healthy social and physical environment in which many languages and cultures can thrive side-by-side.


*Image courtesy of ESA


Photo: Myleen Hollero

Event Photos