The Philae lander has been found!

The Philae lander, lost shortly after touchdown on the Comet 67P Churyumov/Gerasimenko, has been found.  ESA mission controllers had been able to broadly narrow down its location, but until now have been unable to find the lander itself because Rosetta has been too far away to take pictures of sufficient resolution.

As of last Friday, that is no longer the case.  Now entering the final phase of its mission, Rosetta is making much closer passes by the comet’s nucleus, and it has now returned an image in which the lander is clearly visible.  It’s now obvious why the lander was unable to right itself: it is firmly wedged into a crevice, on its side, under a large overhang.

Philae_found_R

There is no hope of reviving the lander; it simply cannot receive enough sunlight in this orientation, ever.  By the end of the month, Rosetta will have joined it on the comet’s surface, after slowly spiraling in and photographing ever closer.  Scientists may manage to land Rosetta more delicately, repeating the feat of NEAR-Shoemaker in landing on 433 Eros.  But at that point the primary mission will, most certainly, be over.

Sleep well, little lander.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Philae lander has been found!

  1. rskurat

    Has there been any conclusion as to why the anchoring devices didn’t work? I remember some hand-waving about possible vacuum welding of metal parts. I understand we got lots of info from Philae & that they were trying to stress that, but I can’t help feeling like the landing was a bit of a botch.

    • Unfortunately, no. It’s very difficult, as you might imagine, to analyze a mechanical failure on a spacecraft in deep space. All you have to go on is telemetry, and Philae went silent too quickly. It was tough enough working out what had become of Galileo’s high gain antenna, and they had months and months to interact with the spacecraft and experiment and try to figure it out. I suspect we won’t ever really know what went wrong.

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