After finally spotting the refrigerator-sized probe on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasminko on Monday, the European Space Agency said there is still a chance that the sleeping robot could continue its epic journey across four billion miles of space.
This will happen if it reawakens in the coming weeks or months as the comet flies closer to the Sun. More sunlight means more energy to recharge the lander’s batteries, said Dr. Stephan Ulamec, the Rosetta mission’s Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Darmstadt, Germany.
The comet – and Philae, together with its mother ship Rosetta – will reach their closest point to the Sun on Aug.13 next year at a distance of about 115 million miles, roughly between the orbits of Earth and Mars.
Mission control lost contact with Philae on Saturday when Rosetta flew below the comet’s horizon.
In the meantime, focus is now on the mother ship, which is maneuvering back into the comet’s orbit after dropping off Philae.
Next year, as the comet becomes more active as it approaches the Sun, ESA officials said Rosetta will fly unbound “orbits,” making brief fly-bys to within five miles of the comet’s surface.
On Monday, ESA scientists announced that they have finally spotted Philae on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasminko based on the images taken and relayed by Rosetta.
Although the robot is barely visible in the pictures, a faint glint and shadow can be seen indicating the spot where it landed after it bounced off from its original landing site. Two harpoons that were supposed to anchor the probe to the ground failed to deploy, causing Philae to bounce half a mile back into space after its initial touchdown.
The latest images confirmed that the probe finally settled in the shadow of a crater wall where its solar panels could not absorb enough energy from sunlight.
Meanwhile, ESA has released mind-blowing close-up images of comet 67P taken by Rosetta and Philae before and after the comet landing. The images have been given Creative Commons license which means the public is free to share and use them.