ESA May Have Finally Found Long-Lost Philae Lander

Friday, 12 June 2015 - 10:34AM
Philae/Rosetta
ESA
Friday, 12 June 2015 - 10:34AM
ESA May Have Finally Found Long-Lost Philae Lander
In November 2014, Philae made a historic landing on a comet, becoming the first manmade craft to achieve this feat. But since its harpoons didn't quite deploy correctly, it bounced from its planned landing site to an unknown location, and ultimately shut down prematurely when it was unable to draw energy from the sun.

ESA has been searching for the lander ever since, but they couldn't be quite sure of the location of Philae's eventual landing site. As part of their CONSERT (COmet Nucleus Sounding Experiment by Radiowave Transmission) experiment, which detects the topography of the comet by measuring electromagnetic waves, they were able to narrow it down to an ellipse of 52 x 525 feet just outside the Hatmehit depression. 

Now, Rosetta's imaging system, OSIRIS (Optical, Spectrocopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System), has captured images that might contain the dormant Philae lander, although ESA can't be quite sure.


"We have identified several possible lander candidates in OSIRIS images, both inside the CONSERT region of interest and nearby," said OSIRIS principal investigator Holger Sierks in an ESA statement

But there's one candidate in particular that the OSIRIS team believes is likely the Philae lander. OSIRIS images taken before and after the landing show a bright spot that only appeared after Philae settled down on the comet. "This bright spot is visible on two different images taken in December 2014, clearly indicating that it is a real feature on the surface of the comet, not a detector artefact or moving foreground dust speck," said OSIRIS team member Philippe Lamy.

ESA May Have Finally Found Long-Lost Philae Lander

ESA May Have Finally Found Long-Lost Philae Lander

ESA has deemed this location a "good candidate" for the position of the lander, but as of now they are unable to confirm it. First, the bright spot lies just outside the aforementioned ellipse, although that is ultimately an estimation, so it's not a disqualifying factor. But the before-and-after images were also taken a full seven weeks apart, which means that the bright spot could be the result of some other physical change in the topography.

But still, this is the closest we've come to the intrepid Philae lander who gave us the first picture of the surface of a comet, not to mention inspired the public to take an active part in space exploration. There's no way to know if we've found the lander yet, but if we have, it would make a great ending to this adorable XKCD cartoon.

Via io9.
Science
Space
Philae/Rosetta
ESA

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