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Comet lander’s exploration cut short

Despite rough touchdown, Philae able to collect some data

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10:00am, November 28, 2014
Philae images of comet 67P

FINAL RESTING PLACE  The first two images from the comet’s surface, combined in this mosaic, suggest Philae landed at the base of a cliff. One of the lander’s feet is seen in the foreground.

On November 12, a robot called Philae fell from its mother ship Rosetta onto comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, touching down not once but three times. Philae’s final resting place, however, put it in a tough spot — in a crevice, in the shadow of a cliff, with two legs on the ground and one in space.

The precarious position wasn’t exactly what mission scientists from the European Space Agency had planned for with the first ever comet landing (SN: 11/1/14, p. 22). Resting on two legs, rather than three, raised concerns about whether all of Philae’s instruments would work correctly. Worse, the cliff’s shadow also blocked solar panels from harvesting enough sunlight to recharge Philae’s batteries, leaving the lander with only about 50 hours of power to explore its new home. Mission scientists were left scrambling to wring as many details as

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