Scientists Hope to Make Comet Lander Hop to Safety

If it doesn't get sunlight soon, mission could be over
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2014 6:05 PM CST
Scientists Hope to Make Comet Lander Hop to Safety
This image was taken by Philae's descent imager when it was about 131 feet above the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.   (AP Photo/Esa,Rosetta,Philae)

The spacecraft that landed on a comet yesterday is still talking to scientists, but its battery is expected to conk out soon. In what could be a last-ditch effort to save the mission, scientists with the European Space Agency say they'll try to make the Philae lander essentially hop to a different spot—one in which it might get more juice in the form of sunlight for its solar panels, reports the Guardian. Researchers still don't know exactly where the lander is, only that it's surrounded by rocks blocking most sunlight, perhaps next to a cliff, reports the BBC.

In the meantime, the lander has begun drilling about 10 inches deep into the comet to collect samples that scientists would love to analyze, given that they are presumably billions of years old, reports the AP. The question is whether the battery will hold out long enough to transmit any data, while the very act of drilling is draining it further. "Maybe the battery will be empty before we contact again," says Stephan Ulamec, head of the lander mission. The battery isn't expected to last beyond tomorrow, but if ESA is able to shift the lander to a sunnier locale, the data collection could go on for months. (The landing hit a few glitches, including anchoring harpoons that didn't fire.)

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