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Time running out on comet lander

Philae’s silence continues as colder temperatures make renewed contact unlikely

3:03pm, January 20, 2016

PHILAE DESCENDING  After a rough landing on comet 67P in November 2014, the Philae probe (illustrated) will probably permanently shut down soon as temperatures on the comet plummet. 

Time is running out for the Philae comet lander. The latest attempts to communicate with the probe have failed. And with temperatures plummeting as the comet races from the sun, it will soon be too cold for the robotic explorer to keep its computer running.

On January 10, engineers sent a command to spin Philae’s reaction wheel, which helped stabilize the lander during its descent. They hoped to nudge the lander into sunlight or at least shake several months of comet dust off its solar panels. Philae did not respond.

“It’s a bit sad,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae’s manager at the German Aerospace Center in Cologne. “But it would be sad if we concentrated so much on what we couldn’t achieve and not on what we did.”

Philae’s mission got off to a rough start (SN: 12/13/14, p. 6). After separating from the Rosetta

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