Back In Black: Philae Lander Returns From the Dead

[Kat Clements | Contributing Writer]

As you may remember, back in November the European Space Agency (ESA) dropped a probe, Philae, onto the surface of Comet 67P from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft. You may also remember that they then subsequently lost it.

The probe landed in a shadowed area and possibly fell over, which meant that its solar power generators could not harvest energy and the battery ran out after 60 hours. However, after the probe went into hibernation, scientists were hopeful that it would get more sunlight as the comet’s orbit changed and be able to reopen communications.

On Saturday, the ESA announced, Philae had made contact for 85 seconds via the Rosetta probe, and that they were now optimistic that the data carried by the probe could be retrieved. They announced the good news via Philae’s official Twitter account:

 

Comets have seasons, like planets, and as Comet 67P moved closer to the sun the intensity of light falling on its surface increased, and the hours of daylight lengthened. This is why the formerly shadowed landing site now has enough sun to power Philae’s communications array.

Although the lander has been in darkness for 7 months, the low temperatures don’t seem to have damaged its circuitry – according to the project manager Stephan Ulamec, quoted by the BBC as saying “Philae is doing very well. It has an operating temperature of -35C and has 24 watts [of power] available.”

Stephan Ulamec speaking about the lander | Flickr
Stephan Ulamec speaking about the lander | Flickr

The probe’s primary mission, analysis of ice and rock making up the comet, has yet to be completed. When the lander reached the surface it was designed to drill down into the rock, but the uneven landing – Philae bounced for up to a kilometre across the surface before landing in its current, unknown, position – meant that that hasn’t yet been possible. However, as the comet gets closer to the Sun in the coming months – by August it should be a mere 186 million km away – Philae will be able to record unprecedented views of the comet’s surface as it melts.

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Back In Black: Philae Lander Returns From the Dead