Rosetta spots Philae lander on surface of comet 67P

Rosetta images of Philae lander on comet 67P

PHILAE FOUND The landing spot of the Philae comet lander (left, and bottom right), seen in this September 2 image from the Rosetta spacecraft, has been hiding on comet 67P (top right) since November 2014.

ESA, Rosetta, MPS for OSIRIS Team; MPS, UPD, LAM, IAA, SSO, INTA, UPM, DASP, IDA; context: ESA, Rosetta, NavCam, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Philae has been found, nestled in a shadowy crevice on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet lander, lost since its tumultuous touch down on the comet on November 12, 2014, turned up in images taken by the Rosetta orbiter on September 2. Philae is on its side with one leg sticking out into sunlight. Its cockeyed posture most likely made it difficult for Philae to reliably get in touch with Rosetta, which explains why mission scientists had trouble re-establishing communication. The discovery comes about one month before the end of the Rosetta mission; the orbiter is scheduled to land on the comet on September 30 and then shut down.

Philae spent just a few days transmitting data from the surface of the comet. Its landing was rough, bouncing twice before stopping. Sitting in the shadow of a cliff, Philae was unable to use solar power to recharge its battery. Rosetta picked up intermittent communication in June and July 2015. Since January, temperatures on the comet have been too chilly for Philae’s electronics; mission scientists stopped listening for radio signals from the lander in July. 

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

More Stories from Science News on Planetary Science