Thursday, November 20, 2014

Update: Philae Goes Quiet - for now

The Little Lander That Could is in deep sleep mode on its cometary home on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko half a billion kilometers from Earth.  We saw it touch down - and we actually heard it (I didn't realize it had acoustic sensors until after the fact.)  That little audio clip told project scientists it his a soft layer (dust?) that was very thin and then a hard layer (rock or ice).  The lander tried hammering into the surface (it didn't get far, but that, too, is valuable data) and it detected organic molecules.  For a lander with so short a life, Philae did a lot of science.
Also, it landed on a comet.  Don't forget how amazing that is after a ten-year journey from Earth.
Philae may come back. The comet is headed for the Sun, with its closest approach coming next August.  More sunlight on the solar panels may result in more data as the probe returns to life and contacts us through Rosetta, which will be hovering (ok, orbiting) around until at least December 2015.
It's an amazing story. And it may not be over.

Our first panoramic view of the surface of a comet (ESA)

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