Rosetta's Philae Lander May Wake Up Next Year
After Rosetta's lander Philae went to sleep after just a couple of days on the comet's surface, scientists knew there was a chance that we would never hear from it again. But now, ESA researchers claim that the latest analysis of Philae's data suggest that it will survive into 2015 and will likely turn on again sometime during the year.
In November, Philae became the first spacecraft to ever land on a comet's surface. But after a troubled landing in which it bounced twice before landing in an unplanned resting place that researchers have been unable to locate, the lander was not exposed to enough sunlight to recharge its batteries and shut down after its initial battery charge. It was unknown whether the lander would wake up again before the comet passed too close to the sun and destroyed it, but now the assigned researchers are confident that the images of Philae's location indicate that it is exposed to just enough sunlight to survive the cold and awaken sometime in the next year.
According to the images taken before Philae went to sleep, it is wedged between two rocky outposts that allow for four-and-a-half hours of sunlight per day. This is enough to keep crucial parts of the lander warm and to maintain basic operations, but not enough to do any of the planned scientific research. We should know more in a few days, as Rosetta has taken new pictures of Philae's location while the lander was lit up, while previous photos were taken while it was encased in shadows.
"It's a bit like waiting for Christmas presents," said Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor.
Lead Philae scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring is optimistic that Philae will gain enough power to fully reboot and essentially re-do all of the planned operations, as almost all of its essential instruments are still intact. "The question of how much power we'll get is really a function of where we are now," said Bibring. "My suspicion is that we'll be in a good shape."
Counterintuitively, the same unplanned position that caused Philae's premature coma would actually provide a richer analysis for ESA, should the lander ever awaken. Wedged in between icy rocks as it is, it is able to see many more varieties of icy surfaces that it would have been from the original landing spot.
"It's a better spot than we could have wished, in terms of science," said Taylor.
"We have a large diversity of materials ahead of us, much larger than we hoped," said Bibring.
The researchers believe that Philae could wake up as early as January, although it is more likely that it will occur later in the year.