To astronomers’ surprise, comet lander Philae has come out of hibernation after seven months and communicated with Earth over the weekend, the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement. Philae landed on the icy comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November, becoming the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet.
Philae is in good health
Unfortunately, only after 60 hours of landing on the comet, its battery fell flat when Philae came down with a bounce and fell in the shadow of a cliff rather than in direct sunlight. The robotic probe woke up on Saturday as comet 67P continues to move closer to the Sun. Philae’s solar panels are now generating enough energy to power up its systems.
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— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) June 14, 2015
The comet lander first sent signals back to Earth at 20:28 GMT on Saturday. It made another three short contacts of approximately ten seconds each on Sunday at 21:30 GMT. The European Space Agency said that contacts were much shorter than it was expecting. But it proved that the robot was in pretty good health. Saturday’s contacts were only for 85 seconds, with about 10 seconds in duration spread over several minutes.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) June 14, 2015
Rosetta, the spacecraft that carried Philae to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is still in orbit and can relay messages back to Earth. Project manager Stephan Ulamec said that Philae had “an operating temperature of -35 degrees Celsius and has 24 watts available.” Researchers said the short length of contacts could be because, even though Rosetta is just 200km away from the comet, it might not be properly aligned.
Philae has over 8,000 data packets
They are now working to change Rosetta’s alignment to establish a super-strong connection with Philae. It will allow them to start sending commands for Philae to carry out new measurements. Philae is expected to contact again on Monday. Rosetta spacecraft traveled for 10 years before successfully landing Philae on the Comet 67P.
So far, scientists have been able to analyze about 300 data packets in the robot’s memory. They are awaiting the next contact to analyze more than 8,000 remaining data packets. On August 13, the comet 67P will be closest to the Sun before swinging back again. Philae should have enough sunlight to work until October.