Europe's out-of-touch comet spacecraft wakes up, tweets


When the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Philae lander plopped onto a comet late last year it was a big deal. A really big deal.

Philae marked not only a great technical achievement for ESA—it’s very hard to land a spacecraft on a rock that is hurtling through space—but a boon to those of us who hope to avoid death by asteroid. The more we know about comets, the more we know about how to prevent one from hurtling into us in the future. An unlikely scenario in the near-term, but one that is certainly not unprecedented (hi, dinosaurs).

So we all cheered for Philae, and we all mourned when, a few days later, Philae stopped telling us what it was up to. The lander’s battery had died. We thought it was gone forever.

But on Sunday, Philae returned, a la Rip Van Winkle:

And immediately started flirting with Rosetta, the ESA mission that launched it to space:

Rosetta was into it:

ESA said in a press release that it has received some information from Philae already, and is expecting more: “More than 300 data packets have been analysed by the teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center…There are still more than 8000 data packets in Philae’s mass memory which will give the DLR team information on what happened to the lander in the past few days on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.”

Philae’s system engineer Laurence O’Rourke told CNN that now that Philae is back in touch with ESA, we can expect some “amazing images.” He added that even though communication with the lander has been shoddy, Philae has still taught us a lot about comets. Per CNN:

“Instead of thinking of a comet as a dirty snowball, O’Rourke has said, he now thinks of a comet as an ‘icy dirtball.’ He also described discoveries of dust and large “boulders” circling the comet after they were blown off by the sun during previous orbits, and an image that appears to show a structure the size of a football field that has been lifted and deposited next to the hole.”

The more you know.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.

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