Lost in Space: Philae Lander Missing

Jan 7, 2015 at 3:56 pm |

Two months after the Philae lander made history by landing on a comet, the European Space Agency has admitted that they don’t quite know where it is.

The lander touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Nov. 12 and transmitted some data regarding the comet’s size and water content. Due to a off-target landing, however, Philae ended up in a shadowy crater on the comet where it couldn’t get enough sunlight to recharge its solar panels. That means the lander ‘went to sleep’ sooner than expected – after 57 hours – and has been unable to send back more data since.

Wait- it only worked for 57 hours before shutting down? Don’t remember hearing about that in November. What does that have to say about modern society’s attention span, even for highly-publicized events?

Meanwhile, the Rosetta satellite, which carried Philae to the comet in the first place, has been orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko this whole time, trying repeatedly to track the lander via high-resolution photographs. Although scientists say they have a pretty good idea of where the lander is, they just can’t seem to pinpoint its location.

Ever the optimists, European Space Agency scientists said they expect Philae to recharge its solar panels when the comet orbits closer to the sun throughout the spring. That means that by September, Philae might be back in action and ready to carry out the process of drilling samples from the comet.

Thus far, the lander did send back water samples, which scientists have studied and found to be chemically different than the water we have on Earth, dismissing the theory that comets delivered water to our planet long ago.

While the mission has been considered a success, 10 months seems like an awful long time to wait for some extraterrestrial dirt.

Remember the spacecraft that landed on a comet in November? Scientists can’t find it! Read here.