European Space Agency Makes Last-Ditch Attempt to Contact Philae Comet Lander


It’s been a bumpy ride for the European Space Agency’s Philae lander. The little robot made history in November 2014, making the first controlled landing onto the surface of a comet. An unstable touch-down threw the lander into shade, preventing it from fully charging its batteries. Just days later, the mission team lost contact.

While the Rosetta orbiter that dropped Philae has continued to analyze comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the mission team has periodically tried to rouse the sleeping lander. The increase in light as comet 67P approached the sun allowed Philae to phone home in June and July, but it’s been silent ever since.

Now the mission is at a critical turning point – and Philae may truly be lost for good.

“With every passing day, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is getting further and further away from the Sun, and as such, temperatures are falling on the comet’s surface,” the ESA wrote in a statement. “Things are getting critical for Philae: conditions are predicted to be “lander-hostile” – too cold – by the end of January.”

When Philae made contact over the summer, the team expressed concern that the lander might have shifted yet again, preventing it from taking advantage of the increased sunlight.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Rachel Feltman