Scientists working on the Philae probe, which made a shaky yet historic landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, have sent commands on Friday for the probe to start drilling, The Telegraph reported, citing Dr. Matt Taylor, the project scientist. Scientists working on the project remain unsure if Philae can complete its exploratory mission before its battery runs out.
After a landing that took three attempts to get right, the probe is believed to have settled itself into a spot on the comet in the shadow of a cliff, jeopardizing scientists' plans to use solar power to charge its batteries. It takes 28 minutes for commands to reach the probe from Earth, and project managers worry the current attempt could well be the probe's last chance at retrieving samples before the battery runs out. At the same time, deploying the drill could destabilize the probe, which is currently balanced on two of its three legs.
"We have just got contact back with the lander. We have issued the commands to the drill to begin the next step of the operation. We are still trying to find exactly what is going on. We have only just got back in touch with Philae so we are trying to work out what happened overnight. We deployed MUPUS, the hammer, so we want to find out if Philae has moved because of that. We still are not sure where Philae is. Rosetta is using its cameras to look for it," Taylor said, according to The Telegraph.
The drilling is a high-risk activity as the probe is sitting in the shadow of a cliff on the comet, which means Philae is currently not getting enough sunlight, according to BBC, and may not work beyond Saturday. The engineers who are working on ways to make Philae’s battery last longer are also working on how to twist the main body of the robot to expose the largest of its solar panels to the sun.
"It's time to take more risks...we're now coming to the end," Paolo Ferri, the mission's director, said, according to the Daily Mail adding: "If you look at the images we have at the moment, it looks like Philae is resting against a very irregular rock. There is some speculation about it being in a hole…honestly, we have no idea, because we haven’t seen all the images. But what is more important is the attitude [angle] of the lander, and the clock is ticking for us to find this out."
Philae was taken to the 4-billion-year old comet by the Rosetta satellite made by the European Space Agency, or ESA, and the journey took 10 years to complete. After it landed on Wednesday, the probe sent back what were the first images taken from the surface of a comet. According to The Telegraph, Philae has also sampled dust from the comet's surface by lowering the probe’s Alpha X-ray Spectrometer 4 centimeters into the ground. Data from the dust samples are expected to reveal the basic composition of the comet’s surface.
On Friday, the first temperature readings from the comet came through, Chris Lintott, a professor at Oxford University, said in a tweet.
— chrislintott (@chrislintott) November 14, 2014
Scientists are examining radio transmissions between the orbiting Rosetta satellite and the lander, and relying on the orbiter's follow-up imagery to locate the probe, the BBC reported.