Solar System Chatter

Last Call for Comet Lander

The ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft sent the Philae lander down to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014. It was about as impressive as spaceship maneuvers get, going on a seven-hour bounce after its harpoons failed to fire, and finally landing more than half a mile away in a spot that mission scientists have not quite been able to find on any of Rosetta’s images. But Philae pinged home, sending science measurements back for 64 hours before going into hibernation due to insufficient sunlight falling onto its solar panels. The team hoped Philae would wake up once the comet swung around the sun — and it did, briefly phoning home in June 2015, but was unable to perform any more science, before falling silent again. The comet has been extremely active since it warmed up during perihelion, so only recently has Rosetta attempted to get close enough to try reaching Philae again; this time with no luck. They plan to keep trying; even if they can’t contact the lander again, scientists hope to learn a lot if they can visually locate it. In September, Rosetta will join its lander when it makes a controlled impact onto the comet’s surface.

Heather Goss is the Departments Editor at Air & Space.

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comet, ESA, Philae, Rosetta