About 3 months after the Philae probe’s momentous landing on a comet, European Space Agency researchers still don’t know where it is. After landing, the probe bounced and likely settled in a shadowy crater, rapidly emptying its battery because of an absence of sunlight.
Presently Nature reports that ESA is considering sending Rosetta — the probe that is been circling the comet 67p/C-G — on an exceptional mission to discover Philae next month.
Rosetta would be dropped down to a closer orbit around the comet (around 3.7 miles out, the closest its ever come) to take higher-resolution photographs of the zone Philae is thought to be. The drawback is that doing so would use up some of Rosetta’s fuel — blocking an intended flyby on the comet’s other, sunlit side, which would give the best pictures of the comet’s surface taken thus far.
ESA researchers are apparently debating the thought, and are prone to settle on a decision in the following few days. However, in spite of whether they complete the search mission, the main hope is that by May or June, Philae will be presented to enough sunlight to wake up all alone.
At the point when Philae landed on the comet — the first-ever controlled landing of a spaceship on one — there were some technical challenges. The most real one was that the probe’s harpoons, which were intended to secure it to the comet’s surface, failed to fire.
Thus, Philae bounced a few times. Because of the very low level of gravity, its first bounce took around 2 hours, and conveyed it as high as a kilometer over the surface. After another littler bounce, it at last settled in a shadowy crater.
Thus, its solar panels were just able to gather around 90 minutes of sunlight every 12 hours, which implied the spaceship needed to depend largely on its battery. In spite of the fact that ESA researchers utilized mechanical instruments on the spaceship to turn it somewhat with expectations of getting more sunlight, the exertion failed, and Philae shut down after 57 hours on the comet.
Amid this short interim, Philae sent back photographs and information, making the mission in general a win. In addition to everything else, that information has let us know that the water present on the comet is not the same as that on earth, making it appear less likely that comets like 67p/G-C conveyed water to earth billions of years back.
However, despite the fact that researchers had the capacity to confirm that Philae likely landed in a 20 by 200-meter band of the comet, photographs taken by Rosetta have neglected to uncover precisely where it is.
The costs and benefits of a search mission
In the following few days, Nature reports, ESA mission researchers will choose whether to complete the search mission or not.
If they do, Rosetta will fly down to a generally close orbit around February 14 and take photographs of the zone Philae is thought to rest. These pictures will be even higher-resolution than past ones, which would assuredly give the researchers a superior chance at discovering Philae.
There’d be two principle advantages do doing this. One is that it’d make it simpler to translate formerly received information from the CONSERT test, which includes sending radio waves from Rosetta to Philae through the comet’s interior to better comprehend its structure. When it was awake, Philae sent back information on the radio waves it received, yet knowing Philae’s exact area and direction would make it simpler to translate that information, and create a precise picture of the comet’s interior.
Locating Philae’s site would likewise make it simpler to foresee whether it will surely wake up as the comet nears the Sun in May.
However, there are a few drawbacks to the mission. The fundamental one is that Rosetta would then never again have the capacity to take an intended flyby of another zone of the comet that will be directly lit by daylight. This flyby would let Rosetta take high-resolution, without shadow pictures, allowing researchers to better comprehend the comet’s surface.
Also, there’s a bit of danger involved: the comet, which has been warming up over the recent months, is discharging progressively strong jets of dust and gas — and those jets could harm Rosetta if it comes excessively close.
What’s next for Philae
If Rosetta isn’t sent on the search plan — or if it is, yet researchers still can’t find Philae — then an alternate close flyby isn’t possible until 2016, after the comet has passed the Sun and chills off enough so Rosetta can securely get close to it.
However, in spite of whether Rosetta has the capacity spot Philae, the ideal situation would certainly be Philae getting enough solar power to wake up all alone, which could happen in May or June.
This would give Philae a couple of months to gather new information on the comet, including significantly to the measurements it gathered in the hours after its landing. We’ve never had an operable probe on a comet before Philae, so any further information will add massively to our insight of how comets work.