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Comet Lander Sends Back Data, Settles In For A Potentially Long Nap

The ESA released this composite panoramic image showing Philae's surroundings on Comet 67P. To illustrate the lander's orientation, the agency superimposed a sketch of the craft.
ESA Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
The ESA released this composite panoramic image showing Philae's surroundings on Comet 67P. To illustrate the lander's orientation, the agency superimposed a sketch of the craft.

It's not dead yet! Mission Control has re-established contact with the Philae lander, which is perched on a comet.

"That's quite a feat," NPR's Geoff Brumfiel tells our Newscast Desk. "Philae was supposed to land on a nice flat surface where it could get plenty of solar power — but it bounced and ended up in the shadow of a cliff. So its batteries are running low."

Philae, the first spacecraft to land on a comet and study it, is still sending back scientific data. Today's accomplishments include:

The first comet drilling.

It did a little dance.

Power is running low quickly without enough sunlight, the European Space Agency reports on its blog.

But Brumfiel says the mission has already been a success, with all of the data it's been able to send back: "This thing has really had a bright — if slightly short — life on the comet."

Update, 9:55 p.m.: With its battery reserves waning, the lander shut down its instruments just before moving out of contact again, the European Space Agency reports.

"From now on, no contact would be possible unless sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels to generate enough power to wake it up. The possibility that this may happen was boosted this evening when mission controllers sent commands to rotate the lander's main body, to which the solar panels are fixed. This may have exposed more panel area to sunlight."

Before shutting down, the orbit was able to send off all the data it already had collected, the agency reports. The next chance for communication with the lander is about 6 a.m. on Saturday, but that will only happen if its solar panels have managed to collect enough energy by then.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.

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