What's new

We found Philae!

By David, 14 November 2016

An artists impresssion of a thre legged alnder, and a blurry photo of the real thing.

An artists impression of Philae (left) and Rosetta’s Philae photo (right).
Images: ESA–J. Huart, 2013, ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

It’s been a wild ride through space for the Philae lander. Two years ago, Philae hitched a ride aboard the European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta. Together they took a one-way trip to a comet known as 67P. This little lander became the first spacecraft to touchdown on a comet.

Unfortunately, Philae’s harpoons didn’t fire properly during landing, and it bounced into the shade. Without sunlight to charge its batteries, Philae shut down after only 64 hours of experiments.

Scientists thought they would never hear from Philae again. But last year, as the comet approached the Sun, a trickle of sunlight woke Philae. It sent a few more signals before going silent for the last time.

Now the comet 67P is on its way out of our solar system, and Philae is unlikely to stir again. But the Rosetta spacecraft was still orbiting 67P and it finally managed to take a snapshot of Philae.

It turns out that Philae is lying in a crevice with one leg in the air. This more precise location information will allow scientists to better understand the data Philae sent home.

So it’s farewell to Philae. And goodbye to Rosetta too. Scientists flew Rosetta closer and closer to the surface of 67P to take better photos before it ran out of power. Eventually, Rosetta hit the ground and joined Philae once again.

If you’re after more science activities for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!

Subscribe button

0 comments

Leave a Reply

By posting a comment you are agreeing to the Double Helix commenting guidelines.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.