This May be the End for Philae

I remember being so happy back in mid-2015 when I heard that ESA made contact with the Philae lander.  The little lander that could was thought to be lost to the cold of space, not receiving enough sunlight to power itself.  But when the comet approached the Sun, the sunlight became intense enough to wake it back up and allow it to move some of the data it captured.   But now, as the comet 67P has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the likelihood that Philae will ever communicate again is slim.

Philae. credit: ESA

When the landing originally happened, the little lander was thought to have bounced a few times and become wedged in a crevasse, shielding it from the sunlight needed to power it’s systems.  It was thought that stronger sunlight would wake it up and allow it’s data to be captured.  It did wake up when the comet came close to the Sun, but the connection wasn’t strong enough to transfer the gigabytes of data the lander had captured.

Now that the comet has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the lander will have to survive the extreme cold temperatures of space, with almost no guarantee that it will get enough sunlight to power itself.  This could render all of the instruments useless.

We still have the Rosetta spacecraft luckily, orbiting the comet and fully operational.  The probe has been scheduled for a collision with the comet in September of 2016, and as it moves into a closer orbit, it will try to capture an image of Philae to see what it’s fate was.

With the comet reaching its perihelion (closest point to the sun) in August, the lander may still wake up before the crash, but that is an optimistic assessment.  We don’t know what the final fate of Philae will be, but the odds are stacked against it.  Until the end of the Rosetta mission in September, we might as well keep trying.

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