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ESA approximates Philae’s location, but search for the lost lander ends for now

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European Space Agency (ESA) has released a set of images, which it says hints at the possible location of its lost Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, but scientists have called off dedicated search efforts for the probe and will wait for Philae to call home.

Philae Possible Location 1

The space agency released the above image describing the probable location of the probe as “above the rim of the large depression – named Hatmehit – on the comet’s small lobe.” ESA engineers used the image “to guide subsequent lander search efforts, and provides the basis for trajectory reconstructions”.

Philae Possible Location 2

Based on search efforts, ESA release another image later on showing an area which the ESA says is suspected location of Philae. The problem here is that the scale of the image. If we are to go by real measurements, Philae would occupy just about three pixels in the image and considering that the region shown is rich in boulders, there are lots of objects one could mistake for Philae.

ESA scientists have been torn into two camps – one advocating a dedicated search effort while the other advising to stick to the original plan and let the probe call home for itself. Engineers of the first camp calling for a dedicated search effort even chalked out a flight path deviation for Rosetta spacecraft for a close fly by of the comet above the possible landing site, but ESA decided against it at the last moment. The reason was that a search for the lander would have jeopardised another flyby where Rosetta will have a chance of monitoring the comet without any shadows.

As it stands, ESA will now rely on “co-riding” opportunities presented by the planned mission programme for Rosetta.

“We’ll be focusing on ‘co-riding’ observations from now on, that is, we won’t be changing the trajectory of Rosetta to specifically fly over the predicted landing zone in a dedicated search, but we can modify the spacecraft pointing and/or command images to be taken of the region if we’re flying close to the region and the science operations timeline allows”, said Rosetta’s British project scientist Dr Matt Taylor.

ESA scientists are hoping that once the probe has access to enough sunlight by May or June, it will have enough power in its batteries to wake up, re-establish a communication link, and send back a “hello” signal.