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​We’ll Never Hear From the Philae Comet Lander Again, Sob

In space, no one can hear you scream.
July 26, 2016, 3:53pm
Rosetta's target comet, 67P/C-G. Image: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

The past couple of years have been a rollercoaster of emotions for fans of the European Space Agency's comet-chasing Rosetta mission, and Wednesday brings a final blow to those still desperately holding hope that comet lander Philae might be revived: ESA is turning off the system on the Rosetta orbiter that allows it to communicate with Philae.

Chances were already very slim, but this means there will be no way for Philae to regain contact with Rosetta.


It's time for me to say goodbye. Tomorrow, the unit on @ESA_Rosetta for communication with me will be switched off forever…
— Philae Lander (@Philae2014) July 26, 2016

After getting unprecedentedly close to a comet in August 2014, the Rosetta orbiter launched the smaller Philae spacecraft onto its surface. The landing didn't go entirely smoothly, and while Philae was able to communicate a bunch of science data at first, it went silent a few days later, making contact only briefly in July 2015 for the last time.

Since then, researchers have kept trying to get data from the lander, but haven't held much hope as Rosetta's target comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, moves further from the Sun, exposing the spacecraft to colder temperatures and less solar power.

Now, the space agency explains on its blog that Rosetta's Electrical Support System Processor Unit (ESS) has to be switched off to conserve power for the essential science operations on the orbiter as it will soon face a "significant loss of power," ending up around 520 million kilometres away from the Sun by the end of this month. In September, Rosetta will smash into 67P to join Philae in one last, silent goodbye.

How many times must we bid a heartbreaking farewell to Philae? Just try not to imagine it out in the darkness, howling a desperate plea, with Rosetta no longer able to hear.