The long search for the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is over. The lander has been found.
The astonishing announcement comes just a few weeks before the orbiting Rosetta mission is scheduled to come to an end. Scientists had been using high-resolution images from Rosetta to try and locate Philae ever since its bumpy landing in November 2014, but have only now tracked it down in the mission's "final hour".
The images were taken recently on September 2 by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) from a distance of 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles). They show Philae on its side wedged under a cliff and in shadow, as expected, which had made attempts to communicate with it so difficult, and resulted in ESA declaring the lander “dead” in July this year.
"With only a month left of the Rosetta mission, we are so happy to have finally imaged Philae, and to see it in such amazing detail," said Cecilia Tubiana of Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera team, who was the first person to see the images, in a statement.
This is the first time Philae has been photographed on the surface since its infamous landing, when it bounced twice before coming to rest in this location. Rosetta managed to snap an image of its first attempted landing, but the lander had not been seen from again. It did, however, manage to send back its own view of the surface, in addition to completing more than 80 percent of its intended science.
These images confirm the lander is in a location called Abydos, which is on the smaller lobe of the comet. Scientists had devised an area a few tens of meters across that they thought the lander was likely to be in, but had been unable to image it directly until now.
The find is all the more remarkable given that the Rosetta mission is due to end on September 30, when it will be sent to touch down on the comet and cease communication with Earth. “We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever,” Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta Mission Manager, added in the statement. “It is incredible we have captured this at the final hour."
It’s a fitting end to what has been a wonderful mission for the past two years. We still won't hear from Philae as the lander has since run out of power, but perhaps now we can give it the fitting send-off it deserves.
Image in text: This labeled image shows the different parts of the lander. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team