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Sunday 21 December 2014

Will Philae live?

Above: The twisted, black, ice of comet 67P.
At a recent press conference ESA scientists seemed remarkably confident that their lost comet lander, Philae, could survive and make contact with Earth: Last month the ESA spacecraft Rosetta sent it's lander, Philae down to the surface of a comet called 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. In a sequence of events that must have left mission controllers with brown, damp, trousers the probe hit the surface with a thud (exactly like this)....

...then completely failed to anchor itself with it's gas thruster, harpoons, or ice screws, and bounced back off into space.
Above: An image from Philae of a landscape blurred by speed. Not what you want to get from a spacecraft that has just 'landed'.
Oh. Dear.

The washing machine sized robot slowly bounced up and around the comet, under the weak gravity there. It hit a ridge, hit the ground, bounced off again, and finally came down in the shadow of steep cliff. Not a good positon for a solar powered robot. In the days that followed the science team made a desperate scramble to collect as much data as possible with the robot's tools, before its battery died, possibly forever. They succeeded, and as Philae's batteries failed they bade farewell to the child of so many hopes and dreams.

Their data revealed complex organic molecules, that the comet is almost hollow,giving clues to the origin of Earths water, and being named the top breakthrough of 2014. It's mother ship has been sucking in data like nobody's business, including the 'song' of the comets magnetic field:

Above: The 'sound' made by the comets magnetic field, sped up 100,000 times so we can hear it.

Now it seems that Philae might just call home again: As the comet gets closer to the sun Philae gets more sunlight - potentially enough for the solar panels to use, acoording to the Roseta team, who spoke at a multi national press conference this week. The conference is below - the session is an hour long, so spin on to 31:00 for the relevant bit if you're in a hurry:

Jean Pierre Biebring, part of the Rosetta team, said "... really the question is whether or not some electronics might suffer from the cold." But the robot is designed to handle cold temperatures - the camera can operate at temperatures of -150 degrees Celsius for example, and Philae has already endured the harsh environment of deep space.

Will the little droid that went to stand on a comet make a comeback? We should know around March next year, as the sun rises higher in Philae's sky, and grows brighter with the comets fall towards it.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Papers on Curiosity finds made publicly available

The papers on the recent findings of organic matter and methane on Mars are available for free

Venus express space probe to burn up in Venus' atmosphere:

The European Venus Express probe is going down in flames, over the skies of Venus.

Chinese Moon mission still alive

The Chinese lander is still at work on the surface of the Moon

Voyager 2 encounters 'tsunami' in interstellar space

Now the first craft to reach the interstellar void, Voyager 2 returns even more surprising data about the gas, dust, and magnetic fields out there.

Asteroid soil used to grow plants

Tiny worlds, asteroids are usually thought of as barren, but it turns out that the soil on some of them can be used to grow crops.

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