In DepthPlanetary Science

Comet lander's scientific harvest may be its last

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Science  31 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6247, pp. 459-460
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6247.459

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Philae, the comet-landing component of the European Rosetta mission, made the most of the hours it had last November on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Today, the lander team publishes the scientific fruits of that brief life: seven papers that describe the mechanical, compositional, and textural properties of the comet surface and its interior. And they may be the lander's last. After an initial reconnection between the orbiter and lander on 13 June, there were six more communications between Philae and Rosetta, of varying durations, in the subsequent 10 days. The engineering "housekeeping" data that were retrieved were good: The lander was warm and receiving plenty of sunlight, which will increase up until 13 August, when 67P reached its closest point to the sun. Engineers lowered the altitude of Rosetta's orbits in the hopes of attaining more durable radio links. But that has not happened. Since 24 June, the team has heard just once from the lander—on 9 July. One of the lander's two receivers is dead, and one of its two transmitters may also be on the fritz.