Efforts to locate Philae, the lost comet probe, have yet to yield any meaningful sign of the lander since its battery died in November. European Space Agency researchers still expect the craft to turn up, but the long outage could be a symptom of Philae’s rough landing on a comet nearly two months ago.
Initial clues about Philae’s location might be found in the trove of information it sent about Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet on which it landed Nov. 12. It sent images and surface data about its location back to Earth but the mission was declared over just three days later when the spacecraft entered sleep mode. Operators blamed the shutdown on the lack of sunlight entering Philae's systems. The bad news, the BBC reported Monday, is not much has changed since.
“The Philae saga is going to continue,” Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the Centre National d'Études Spatiales, the French space agency, told Agence France-Presse, adding scientists hope Philae will wake up soon. “We hope that from March, the sunlight will help the robot to recharge its batteries and resume its scientific work.”
Constructed and launched in 2004, Philae was part of the Rosetta mission, which aimed to orbit and then land on a comet. Philae acted as the landing craft for the Rosetta, which continues to operate and collect observations. The same can’t be said for the lander, in part because it physically separated from the orbiter and bounced away twice from its landing site.
“In this mode, all instruments and most systems on board are shut down,” ESA said in an announcement in November. “The lander remains unanchored to the surface at an as-yet-undetermined location.”