Hello Again: Comet-landing Spacecraft Awakes from Deep Sleep

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June 15, 2015

Philae has awoken.

The spacecraft that landed on a comet in 2014 has sent a message to Earth seven months after going quiet as the result of a bumpy landing in the shadow of a cliff.

Philae was launched from the Rosetta spacecraft in November and successfully landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The landing wasn’t a smooth one, though, and Philae ended in the dark, out of sight of the Sun. So even though Philae had solar panels, they didn’t do any good.

Officials at the European Space Agency switched Philae to “hibernation mode,” to conserve energy, while waiting for the comet to get close enough to the Sun to absorb some sunlight. The comet’s point of closest approach will be on August 13. Scientists estimate that the solar power received from that exposure should last Philae until October.

Before it was switched off, Philae sent back a great deal of data on the comet and its makeup. After Philae woke up, it sent back a lot more data. Scientists will analyze those data in great detail in the next few months.

One thing that scientists hope to determine from the comet-bound spacecraft is its location. Because of the communication gap, scientists still don’t know exactly where it is on the surface of the comet.

The Rosetta spacecraft launched in 2004 and performed various other tasks before launching its lander Philae into the comet, including making a close flyby of Mars and a few significant asteroids, sending back data along the way.

The Rosetta spacecraft is named after the Rosetta Stone, a stone from ancient Egypt that has the same inscription in three languages and was used to deciper hieroglyphics. The Philae lander is named after the Philae obelisk that has an inscription in Greek and hieroglyphics and was also used to help deciper hieroglyphics.

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