Researchers will take a long-shot chance at waking up the snoozing Philae comet lander on Thursday, four months after the lander capped off a 4-billion-mile journey by descending to the space rock’s surface.
Philae’s months-long space nap began after it touched down near a cliff on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerashimenko in November. The shady location blocked Philae’s solar panels from receiving enough sunlight to keep going -– but it managed to send back large amounts of science data before its batteries ran out. Now researchers are hoping that the neighborhood Philae is in will have shifted into sufficient sunlight for it to be nudged awake by the separate Rosetta probe in orbit around the comet.
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“Philae currently receives about twice as much solar energy as it did in November last year,” lander project manager Stephan Ulamec of the German Aerospace Center said in a post on the center’s website. “It will probably still be too cold for the lander to wake up, but it is worth trying. The prospects will improve with each passing day.”
The comet and probe are now more than 186 million miles from the sun. If it’s warm enough for Philae to begin to power up, scientists might be able to get data on the condition of the lander and assess the possibility of doing more scientific work on the comet surface.
--- Matthew DeLuca