Comet lander named after Kingston Lacy obelisk

A robotic landing craft due to make the first ever touchdown on a comet on 12 November owes its name to an ancient Egyptian obelisk which stands in the grounds of Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

The Philae obelisk was discovered at the Temple of Isis on the Egyptian island of Philae in 1815 by explorer and Egyptologist William Bankes. Bankes arranged for the monument to be brought back to his home at Kingston Lacy and it was finally erected on the south lawn between 1829 and 1830.

The obelisk on the south lawn at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Credit Pete Vines

The obelisk on the south lawn at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Credit Pete Vines

The hieroglyphs and Greek inscriptions on the Philae obelisk helped 19th century scholars unlock the secrets of the Rosetta Stone and the language of ancient Egypt. The obelisk bears the names of Ptolemy VII Euergetes II and Cleopatra III, his second consort.

Inspiring a 21st century space mission

As the Rosetta Stone revealed the mysteries of a lost civilisation, two centuries later the Rosetta mission hopes to unveil the enigmas of space. With the help of the Philae landing craft, named after the Philae obelisk, the mission will investigate comets, one of our solar system’s oldest building blocks.

Philae on the comet. Credit ESA

Philae on the comet. Credit ESA

After a decade-long journey through space, the Philae lander will send back information from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko when it sets down on 12 November. The comet loops around the sun between the orbits of Jupiter and Earth and moves at speeds as great as 135,000km per hour.

Data about the composition of the comet sent back by the Philae lander will be analysed by the Ptolemy instrument on board the Rosetta spacecraft, which was designed and built by researchers at the Open University. Like the Philae obelisk, the Rosetta Stone also references the Ptolemaic dynasty.

Pioneering technology examines obelisk inscriptions

While the Philae landing craft makes new discoveries in space, the latest imaging technology is being used to gain further insights into the inscriptions on the Philae obelisk at Kingston Lacy. The work being carried out by the University of Oxford will reveal details on the eroded obelisk no longer visible to the human eye.

The pink granite obelisk detail at Kingston Lacy. Credit Rupert Truman

The pink granite obelisk detail at Kingston Lacy. Credit Rupert Truman

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), 3D and multispectral imaging scans of the obelisk will create an interactive virtual image of the obelisk. The technology will improve our knowledge of the inscriptions and capture for posterity how the obelisk appears now before more of its detail is lost as it gradually degrades over time.

Visiting the Philae obelisk at Kingston Lacy

The 6.7m obelisk can be found on the south lawn against the backdrop of Kingston Lacy house. The towering monument arrived on a converted gun carriage and needed 19 horses to raise it upright onto the foundation stone laid by the Duke of Wellington.

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