Philae Lander Wakes Up, ‘Phones Home’

First image taken by Philae after landing on the comet on November 12, 2015 showing a steep cliff and one of the lander’s legs. Credit: ESA/ROSETTA/PHILAE/CIVA
First image taken by Philae after landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on November 12, 2015. It shows a steep cliff off to the right and one of the lander’s legs. Credit: ESA/ROSETTA/PHILAE/CIVA

I have great news to share with you this Sunday morning. Yes, you read that right — the comet lander Philae is alive and well. On Saturday at 3:28 p.m. CDT, the lander “spoke” to the mothership, the Rosetta spacecraft in orbit about Comet 67P/C-G, for 85 seconds, exchanging 300 “packets” of data.

“Philae is doing very well. It has an operating temperature of -35ºC (-31F°) and has 24 watts available,” said DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.”

Philae's harpoons failed and its ice screws weren't enough to anchor it to the comet's surface, so it bounced back up into space. Two hours later it finally came to rest on the surface. Credit: ESA
Philae’s harpoons failed and its ice screws weren’t enough to anchor it to the comet’s surface, so it bounced back up into space. Two hours later it finally came to rest on the surface. Credit: ESA

Rosetta has been listening for Philae’s radio signal since March 12 in hopes that the changing orientation of the comet coupled with an increase in the intensity of sunlight as it approaches the Sun would fire up the lander’s solar panels again.

Philae briefly touched down on 67P on November 12, but the harpoons used to anchor it to the comet’s surface failed. The three-legged lander bounced right back into space and sailed above the nucleus for two hours before settling down (after two more bounces!) at a new landing site called Abydos about a half mile from the original site.

Landing in a shaded area near a large cliff, Philae soon ran out of power and "went to sleep". Increasing sunlight at the comet in recent weeks finally "woke" it back up. Credit: ESA
Landing in a shaded area near a large cliff, Philae soon ran out of power and “went to sleep”. Increasing sunlight at the comet in recent weeks finally “woke” it back up. Credit: ESA

Unfortunately, Philae settled down in a shaded area at the base of a large cliff. Without enough sunlight on its solar panels, to re-charge its batteries, the probe went into hibernation 60 hours later. Not only did we lose contact, we lost sight of the lander. Recently, a promising candidate was found on extreme close-up photos taken when Rosetta was in close orbit about the comet.

Throughout the mission, the Rosetta team has never given up hope that Philae might regain its strength and wake up. That it actually happened is incredible.

Left image from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shows the Philae lander on November 12, 2014 after it left the spacecraft for the comet’s nucleus. Right: Close-up of a promising lander candidate photographed on December 13, 2014. The view covers about 65 x 65 feet (20 x 20 meters). Copyright: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Left image from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shows the Philae lander on November 12, 2014 after it left the spacecraft for the comet’s nucleus. Right: Close-up of a promising lander candidate photographed on December 13, 2014. The view covers about 65 x 65 feet (20 x 20 meters). Copyright: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Now the scientists are waiting for the next contact.  There are still more than 8000 data packets in Philae’s mass memory which will give the mission team information on what happened to the lander in the past few days on the comet. Surprisingly, the lander appears to have woken up even earlier, since it also sent along older, historical data.

I don’t know about you, but this morning’s news made for a wonderful wake up call. And now that the Sun’s starting to come out here, I kinda have a feeling about how it feels to be Philae today.

* UPDATE: In the coming days, the mission teams will reestablish contact with Philae and increase the amount of time it can “talk” with the lander. Once regular contact is established, science observations can begin again. Slowly. One instrument at a time.

The first instruments activated, those measuring temperature, magnetic fields and electrical conductivity on the comet, make small demands on Philae’s power. Slightly more power-hungry operations like picture taking and radio ranging will follow. Using the images and new data, scientists should be able to pinpoint the lander’s location.

After these steps, mission engineers will attempt to recharge the probe’s drained batteries to fire up its ovens (used to heat samples to determine their composition) and run the drill to collect fresh material.

Here’s a cool link to see LIVE telemetry from Philae.

12 Responses

  1. Hi Bob, amazing news. I thought we might have heard the last from Phiae.

    Do you know if it is still taking pictures, and is it able to move?

    A big day for science!

    1. astrobob

      David,
      Scientists will slowly activate Philae’s instruments one by one and see how it goes starting with those requiring low power (temp. measurements, magnetic fields, soil conductivity) and then move on to cameras.

        1. astrobob

          Hi David,
          You’re welcome. My pleasure, believe me. I’m as interested in Philae’s progress as you are.

  2. Troy

    Wow I’m truly surprised, I thought it was a goner. Hopefully there will be some insight into why the harpoons didn’t work. 0-3, seems like a staggering defeat for that technique.

  3. Janey

    Don’t know if my other post went thru but I was wondering if there was anything supposed to be in the sky tonight that is visible from California north west looking up from San diego.. there is this guy on fb who took a couple videos of what he says is like a weird thing in the sky thats bright neon and then he said planes were circling it… he thinks like a ufo. Please give me any info on what u think it could be. It’s making me scared. Thanks

    1. astrobob

      Janey,
      There’s nothing unusual in the sky tonight from California. You can take it easy. The guy must be imagining things.

    2. astrobob

      Janey,
      BC’s correct. I suspect what the UFO guy is seeing are the two bright planets Jupiter and Venus in the west during evening twilight. Have a look yourself. They’re fun to watch getting closer together over the next two weeks. And their “alignment” or conjunction will have no effect on earthlings except to make us say “wow!”

  4. Wow! What a great time we’re living in right now – if the Ceres and Pluto missions weren’t enough back comes Philae!

    Sorry to digress Bob but, on a side note, I’m not receiving anything via your RSS feed now – it seemed to stop a few days ago, so I came looking and can’t bring anything up when I click the feed icon. It could just be me/my location – it’s happened before – but I thought I’d mention it in case anyone else has the same problem.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for letting me know. I’ve received another note about that and passed it on to the admin people. Ever since the blog appearance was changed there have been problems with both RSS and Comments. I’ll let them know the problem with RSS continues.

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