The comet lander Philae has gone quiet again, leading scientists to believe it may have once again moved. This could be detrimental to the probe’s mission if it has moved into even deeper shadows. More will come on this topic as scientists try to communicate with the comet lander.
Philae – The Historical Comet Lander
Philae was the first probe to land on a comet. Unfortunately, when it landed this past November, it bounced and moved into an area covered by shadows. Since the comet lander is solar powered, this posed a problem as it would soon run out of power. After its initial power supply ran out, it communicated with scientists on a few later occasion as the comet moved into positions in which the comet lander had sunlight pour on it and power it up again. The most recent communication was on July 9th.
How did the comet probe move again?
On its last communication with scientists on July 9th, Philae reported that the amount of sun falling on its solar panels changed significantly from June to July. Scientists know they hadn’t told it to move and according to Stephan Ulamec, the change of sunlight doesn’t seem to correlate to the change of seasons on the comet.
The data that scientists have suggest that the probe was moved into a darker area via gas emission. Some speculate that Philae’s antennae may be obstructed, and it appears that one of its transmitters has ceased to work.
How Scientists Plan to Remedy the Situation
Scientists have given commands to Rosetta, the lander’s orbiter that is going around the comet, to tell it to find the lander and transmit everything it sees. After a few days, it is told to move to a safer distance from the comet. Meanwhile, commands were sent to Philae telling it to only use one transmitter.
Plans were being formulated to move Philae out of the shadows so it could transmit more reliably, but that was before it moved again. There is no telling how deep into shadows the lander is at this moment, but scientists are actively coming up with plans to make sure it will send back data once again.