Good night, Philae

Rosetta mission lander in hibernation mode on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

illustration of Philae on actual images of comet 67P

Philae, shown superimposed on a panorama of images taken by the lander, has gone into idle mode after its batteries depleted. Its position in the shadows of a cliff prevent its solar panels from receiving enough sunlight to continue to operate.


Guest post by Kate Travis

The Philae lander has depleted its batteries and gone into idle mode, probably drawing the surface-based study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to a close.

Philae made contact with the Rosetta spacecraft late on November 15 during a scheduled communications link. The probe relayed all the expected science data, including those from instruments designed to identify organic molecules, analyze gases and sample the comet’s dirt. But the batteries quickly depleted and all instruments and most systems on the lander shut down.

Solar panels were meant to maintain the lander’s power, but Philae’s unexpected bounces during landing put it in the shadows of a cliff, providing much less sunlight than expected. Mission scientists sent commands to Philae to lift the lander and rotate its main body in hopes of moving the solar panels to a position where they would receive more light. “However, given the low recharge current available from the solar cells, it is considered unlikely that contact with Philae will be established in the coming days,” ESA reported on its Rosetta blog.

The Rosetta spacecraft will continue to travel with and study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it nears the sun, reaching its closest point in August. And mission scientists remain optimistic that at some point in the journey Philae’s solar panels will receive enough sunlight to bring the lander out of hibernation.

Read all of SN’s Rosetta coverage.

More Stories from Science News on Astronomy