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Philae lander still missing on comet

Scientists have been unable to locate any signs of Philae in the new images.

By Brooks Hays
Philae lander still missing on comet
Scientists were unable to locate any signs of the Philae lander in new closeup imagery captured by Rosetta. Photo by ESA/ROSETTA/NAVCAM.

PARIS, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Recent reconnaissance efforts by the Rosetta probe failed to turn up new information about the whereabouts of the currently silent Philae lander. The small rover, roughly the size of a dishwasher, is missing somewhere on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's surface.

Earlier this month, Rosetta's mission engineers at the European Space Agency directed the probe to survey a portion of the comet where scientists believe the lander lays dormant. For three days in mid-December, Rosetta captured close up imagery of the assigned crater as it circled the comet at an elevation of 12 miles.

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The effort proved fruitless. ESA officials announced this week that scientists have been unable to locate any signs of Philae in the new images.

Still, ESA officials remain confident that their little lander will wake up and make its presence known soon enough. Philae's bouncy November landing made history, but it also positioned the lander in the shadow of a crater wall. Unable to recharge its batteries via its solar panel, Philae was forced into hibernation early.

Researchers believe that as the comet nears the sun, enough light will find its way to the solar panel and power Philae back to life.

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"I think within the team there is no doubt that we will wake up," lead lander scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring told reporters late last year at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting. "And the question is OK, in what shape? My suspicion is we'll be in good shape."

Scientists suggest Philae could emerge from its slumber as early as February.

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