Last fall, I spent several weeks being fascinated by The European Space Agency (ESA) and their Rosetta project. ( OK, so maybe “several week full-on obsessing over” is a bit more accurate than “fascinated by,” but why do you wanna be so mean?)
Sadly, the indomitable Philae lander proved not actually indomitable, succumbing to a lack of power (and going to sleep) on November 14th, 2014:
When Philae landed, it bounced off the ground several times instead of anchoring. While it initially hit right on its target landing spot, it ended up in a shadier area — and its solar panels didn’t get enough light.
Scientists decided to do as much research as possible with Philae’s borrowed time, and even pulled a daring move to try to reposition the probe. Mission control ordered Philae to move its landing gear as a sort of arm, pushing it into a new position. It moved, but the battery was too close to dead for this repositioning to make a difference.
My #lifeonacomet has just begun @ESA_Rosetta. I’ll tell you more about my new home, comet #67P soon… zzzzz #CometLanding
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 15, 2014
At the time, scientists expressed hope that the comet’s movement would eventually bring the lander back to the sun, and that it could one day be resuscitated. But that seemed like an almost-impossibly-long shot, and one driven more by wishful thinking than by any reality.
I said “almost,” though, right? Good thing, because this happened over the weekend:
…Hidden by shadows, Philae shut down on 15 November 2014 at 00:36 GMT after completing its main science operations sequence on the comet when the primary battery expired as expected after about 60 hours.
Since March 2015, when Philae’s environmental conditions started to improve with higher surface temperatures and better illumination, the orbiter’s receiver had been turned on periodically to listen for signals from the lander when the orbital geometry was thought to be optimum.
On the evening of 13 June, a weak but solid radio link between Rosetta and the lander was finally established for 85 seconds.
Awesome. And so’s this:
“While the information we have is very preliminary, it appears that the lander is in as good a condition as we could have hoped,” says Dr Ulamec.
Attribution(s): Rosetta images and graphics are the property of The European Space Agency (ESA), and have been made available for “educational or informational purposes.”