The jubilation of Philae’s landing turned to concern as mission controllers learned more about Philae’s landing. It was supposed to fire several harpoons to anchor itself to the comet, but those failed.
Philae also didn’t land in its designated zone. Actually, it did, at first. Without the harpoons to attach it to the surface, the lander bounced off the comet twice before eventually resting, on its side, at what looks like the base of cliff. In the image below, you can see one of the lander’s legs.
But, science can’t always be gathered under the best of circumstances. The European Space Agency has announced drilling of the comet’s surface.
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) November 14, 2014
Time is of the essence for the Rosetta mission planners. Philae’s final resting spot lies in a shadow. This means Philae’s solar panels are of little use, and its batteries only last about 65 hours.
Due to Philae’s location, scientists are taking some risks with Philae. Engaging the drill without the lander anchored in place could push the lander right off the comet. But, with limited battery life left, scientists are taking every opportunity they have to collect as much science as possible.
As for where the probe ended up? ESA officials still aren’t sure. “We still could not exactly identify where Philae is at this very moment,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager, in a media briefing this morning.
Ulamec and his team hope to have the exact location sometime this evening.
ESA officials will have a lot more info around 8 pm ET. That’s when they will receive another data packet from Philae along with several new photos. Among these new images will be Philae’s descent images. Philae’s bounce is expected in the images and should help the officials pinpoint Philae’s location.
Time remains the biggest concern for the Philae team. This evening’s data packet might be the last from Philae. “We’re cutting it really close to the next link,” according to team scientist Valentina Lommats.
Still, there is hope for Philae even after its batteries run out of power. As the comet gets closer to the sun, Philae may have a brief window where light will hit its solar panels.
If it can survive the heat.
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