Philae, which completed an incredible landing on the frozen Comet67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’a surface in 2014, was thought to be lost forever. But this cute little robot came back from the cosmic dead this Sunday, as the news was revealed by the European Space Agency.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a Jupiter-family comet which takes about 6.5-year journey around the Sun. It orbits just beyond the orbit of Jupiter at its most distant, and between the orbits of Earth and Mars at its closest. The comet is originally from the Kuiper Belt, but gravitational perturbations pushed it towards the Sun where interactions with Jupiter’s gravity set it on its present-day orbit.
A probe named Rosetta had also been sent on the comet, and in its last month of mission it found the long-lost Philae wedged in a crack between some rocks.
v class=”zn-body__paragraph”>This is another twist in this fairy tale of Philae’s space odyssey. The robot has been an apple of the eyes of the scientific world since its revelation, and it’s landing on the comet after the 10-year space journey also made headlines as it achieved it despite a non-functioning harpoon system.
The lander conducted successful operations on the comet for 60 hours and collected invaluable data and information while being able to communicate with its ground stations on Earth some 317 million miles (510 million kilometres) away.
Scientists received tonnes of research data using Philae’s instruments while acquiring images, sensing molecules and hammering the hard surface of the comet.
The dramatic discovery of 16 “carbon and nitrogen-rich” organic compounds is also part of this lander’s amazing portfolio, which supports the theory that the building blocks of life were originally brought to Earth by comets.
But then the 3 legged hopping lander ran out of energy as it was unable to direct its solar panels towards the sun, and soon after its battery went flat and it fell into hibernation mode.
The lander again revived and communicated June and July 2015, as the comet came closer to the sun, but once again it fell silent and it was assumed that Philae had stopped functioning due to the extremely cold environment. Below is the farewell tweet from the three-legged probe in July.
Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager, announced this year, “Unfortunately, the probability of Philae re-establishing contact with our team at the DLR Lander Control Center is almost zero, and we will no longer be sending any commands. It would be very surprising if we received a signal now.”
Just when everyone thought that Philae was doomed to be lost forever in the solar system, Rosetta’s Osiris camera sent a delightful surprise. The latest pictures from Rosetta were downlinked to Earth on Sunday night which showed Philae wedged in a shadowy crack, with its one-meter wide box-like body two of its three legs clearly visible.
Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta Mission Manager, said: “This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search. We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever. It is incredible we have captured this at the final hour.”
Although the probe still can never be revived or rescued, knowing its exact place will help scientists judge and analyse the data they received during its three days of operation back in 2014.
The discovery comes just a month before the European Space Agency plans to crash Rosetta on the comet Sept 30 and bring its 12-year mission to an end.
“Now that the lander search is finished we feel ready for Rosetta’s landing, and look forward to capturing even closer images of Rosetta’s touchdown site,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator of the Osiris camera.