Matthew Humphries, Geek
There can be no question that what the European Space Agency (ESA) has achieved with the Rosetta project is remarkable, but as we have heard in the last few days, not everything went according to plan and we may now never hear from the Philae lander again.
When Philae separated from the Rosetta spacecraft and began its descent to Comet 67P, scientists had a frustrating and nerve-racking 7 hour wait to discover if it had landed successfully. When it did, there was jubilation, but that was quickly followed by concern. It turned out the harpoons Philae was meant to fire to secure itself to the surface failed, and the low gravity on the comet saw the lander bounce 1km back up into space.
Philae returned to the surface (it could just have easily floated off into deep space), but unfortunately landed in a mostly shaded area. With the on-board batteries running out of juice, yesterday the ESA did all the science experiments it could, transmitted the data to Earth, and rotated Philae as best they could to try and capture more of the sun’s rays on those all-important solar panels.
As of today, Philae has gone into idle mode. All of its systems have shut down and the batteries are empty. Whether the ESA can turn the lander back on depends entirely on how much power can be generated in the coming days, weeks, and months. The next possible chance of communication is November 15, but the ESA doesn’t believe enough power will have been generated and stored in the batteries by then to turn Philae back on.
The good news is we’ve got a lot of data from Philae’s short life and Rosetta will continue to orbit Comet 67P as it heads towards the sun. And that’s also encouraging for Philae, as the journey continues the solar panels could be subjected to a lot more sunlight and the opportunity for a second chance at life. Fingers crossed this isn’t the last we hear from Philae.
This story first appeared in Geek