Philae Found! Comet Chaser Rosetta Spots Lander Weeks Before Its Death
The image of Philae on Comet 67P. Main image and lander inset: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

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Philae Found! Comet Chaser Rosetta Spots Lander Weeks Before Its Death

Philae wins longest game of hide and seek.
September 5, 2016, 3:40pm

With less than one month to go before the end of the European Space Agency's mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the Rosetta orbiter's high-res camera has at last spotted the Philae lander jammed into a shadowy crack.

In the photo taken by Rosetta's OSIRIS camera, which came within 2.7 km of the comet's surface, the main body of Philae can clearly be seen—easily identifiable with two of its three legs proudly on display.

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Matt Taylor, Rosetta mission project scientist, told Motherboard, "Philae was the cherry on the top of the Rosetta cake, which has become a REALLY massive science cake. Philae was there to provide the ground truth. Now we know exactly where that ground is…"

The image was downlinked on Sunday evening, and first seen by Cecilia Tubiana of the OSIRIS camera team.

"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," Tubiana said in a statement.

The Philae lander was shot towards Comet 67P from the Rosetta orbiter in 2014, but stopped communicating after three days when the lander's battery died out. ESA scientists concluded that, after bouncing, Philae ended up in a ditch or underneath an icy overhang, sheltered from the sunlight that gave power to its solar panels. That hypothesis has proved to be correct, with the image from Rosetta now clearly showing how good Philae really was at hide and seek.

Read More: Goodbye, Philae

The last ever sighting of Philae was when the lander first touched down on a region of Comet 67P known as Agilkia. Philae then bounced and flew for two hours until landing at its final resting place, named Abydos.

Philae last communicated with Earth in July 2015, with final attempts to contact the lander by ESA failing in January of this year. In July, ESA finally switched off Rosetta's Electrical Support System Processor Unit to conserve power as the comet raced more than 520 million kilometres away from the Sun.

"This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search," said Patrick Martin, ESA's Rosetta Mission Manager. "We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever. It is incredible we have captured this at the final hour."

Rosetta will complete its mission with a controlled descent (crash) into the surface of the comet at the end of this month, finally joining Philae to rest in peace on Comet 67P's long adventure through our Solar System.