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Welcome Back, Philae

Posted by cfeehan on June 17, 2015


DLR, CC-BY 3.0 [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

After seven long months of silence, Philae’s awake and he’s ready to rumble!

In case you’re not caught up, Philae was the first spacecraft to ever land on a comet – a comet that it took a total of 10 years to reach. It was dropped on the surface of Comet 67P by Rosetta, its mothership, last November, and has not been heard from since.

Philae, which is about the size of a washing machine, was dropped last November, but it accidentally bounced into a corner that was too dark for its solar panels. Because of its placement, it only worked for 60 hours before its battery ran out. Many predicted that it would be destroyed by the intense cold, but against all odds, it started communicating again this week! Since November, the comet has moved closer to the sun, and this caused Philae to be woken up.

The European Space Agency (ESA) said that Philae had contacted Earth, via Rosetta, for 85 seconds on Saturday in the first contact since its battery ran out seven months ago. To announce the lander’s awakening, a Twitter account linked to Philae tweeted the message, "Hello Earth! Can you hear me?"

"I think we're optimistic now that it's awake that we'll have several months of scientific data to pore over," says ESA's senior scientific advisor, Prof Mark McCaughrean.

Although it’s been hibernating, it’s woken up at a key moment. The comet is approaching the sun, and there’s now more potential for discovery. Jets of gas are blasting off the comet, and they could be carrying the ingredients needed for life.

Scientists are hoping that Philae’s work on Comet 67P may give them the key to discovering whether comets helped to get life started on earth.

Comets contain a lot of water and carbon, and "these are the same sorts of molecules responsible for getting life going," says Prof Monica Grady from the Open University.

"What we're trying to find out is whether the building blocks of life, in terms of water and carbon-bearing molecules, were actually delivered to Earth from comets."

Now, all we can do is wait with anticipation to see what Philae can tell us about Comet 67P and hopefully, about how life started on earth.

If you want to keep up with Philae on Twitter, check him out here. And if you’d like a version of Philae’s landing on Comet 67P that’s easy to share with your kids, watch the animated video below!

We’re excited to have you back, Philae!

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Before you go, check out these interesting facts about Comet 67P:

  • 67P is bigger than Mount Fuji and has an icy core 4km wide
  • May be “binary”: two comets melded together during the creation of the solar system
  • Has a mass of 10 billion tonnes


Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor

Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.