Scientists are making a last-ditch attempt to contact the Philae comet lander

Rachel Feltman

Washington Post

11th January 2016

It’s been a bumpy ride for the European Space Agency’s Philae lander. The little robot made history in November 2014, making the first controlled landing onto the surface of a comet. An unstable threw the lander into shade, preventing it from fully charging its batteries.

Just days later, the mission team lost contact. While the Rosetta orbiter that dropped Philae has continued to analyze comet the mission team has periodically tried to rouse the sleeping lander. The increase in light as comet 67P approached the sun allowed Philae to phone home in June and July, but it’s been silent ever since.

Now the mission is at a critical turning point — and Philae may truly be lost for good. ”With every passing day, Comet is getting further and further away from the Sun, and as such, temperatures are falling on the comet’s surface,” the ESA wrote in a statement. ”Things are getting critical for Philae: conditions are predicted to be “ ” — too cold — by the end of January.

” [This may be the last batch of science we get from Rosetta’s Philae lander] When Philae made contact over the summer, the team expressed concern that the lander might have shifted yet again, preventing it from taking advantage of the increased sunlight. On Sunday, the team sent a signal to Philae’s momentum wheel, which stabilized it during its landing, in the hopes that it might shift the lander into a better position — or at least shake some dust off of its solar panels. The control team reported on Twitter that Sunday’s attempt had failed: @isapinza The commands for @Philae2014 were executed as planned, but no signal was received.

(KR) — DLR English (@DLR_en) January 11, 2016 The team will make attempts throughout the month, and the Rosetta orbiter will keep an ear out for Philae for as long as the spacecraft is operational. But by the end of January, the comet and its robotic companions will be more than 480 million miles from the sun, which will drop Philae’s operating temperature to around degrees Fahrenheit. With conditions that hostile and with less sunlight reaching the comet every day, the lander isn’t expected to rally in the spring.

Read More: Why NASA’s top scientist is sure that we’ll find signs of alien life in the next decade No, it’s not a big deal that Philae found ‘organic molecules’ on a comet For the first time ever, scientists found molecular oxygen on a comet Comet Lovejoy pretty much spews sugar and booze, study finds This broken space telescope keeps spotting new planets.
 

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