Philae streams data to Earth before going to sleep

2014-11-16 15:00

The Philae lander on comet 67P sent a stream of data back to Earth before losing power in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The 100kg probe delivered everything expected of it just as its failing battery dropped it into stand-by mode after 57 hours.

Philae is pressed up against a cliff and in deep shadow. This means it cannot get enough light on its solar panels to recharge its systems, the BBC reported.

The European Space Agency (ESA) fears this contact may have been the robot’s last – certainly for a while.

Philae descended to the comet’s surface on Wednesday – the first time in history that a space mission has made a soft landing on a comet.

Scientists were hoping for an opportunity to talk to Philae yesterday afternoon when the orbiting Rosetta satellite – which delivered it to the 4km-wide “ice mountain” – came over the horizon.

But with only 90 minutes of sunshine falling on the robot during the comet’s 12-hour day, the battery had not recovered enough power to complete the radio link.

Engineers maximised the possibility of this happening by re-orienting the lander on Friday, ensuring that the largest solar panel caught the most light.

Among the data collected were the results from a drilling attempt made on Friday – an eagerly anticipated activity. Getting into the surface layers of the comet and bringing up a sample to analyse it was a key mission of Philae.

Scientists are not ruling out future contact as lighting conditions change on 67P as it moves through space on its journey around the sun.

Philae was launched in 2004 on the back of the Rosetta satellite. The pair covered 6.4?billion kilometres to reach 67P near the orbit of Jupiter.

Yesterday, the ESA said Rosetta would return to a 20km orbit of 67P on December 6 and continue its mission to study it in great detail as the comet becomes more active, en route to its closest encounter with the sun on August 13 next year.

Data collected by Rosetta will allow scientists to watch the short- and long-term changes that take place on the comet.

It will also help to answer some of the biggest and most important questions regarding the history of our solar system – how comets work, what role they played in the evolution of the planets, the introduction of water – and perhaps even life on Earth.

How a spacecraft landed on comet

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