In November 2014, Philae was supposed to become the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet. Unfortunately, the landing wasn’t nearly as gentle as the European Space Agency had hoped. In fact it was more like a crash landing. And in the almost two years since, scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly where Philae ended up, nor establish a reliable communication link with the uncrewed lander.
First “soft landing” on a comet
This morning, ESA officially gave up on finding and reviving the lost lander. As Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko moves further from the sun, the Rosetta orbiter that arrived with Philae is receiving less and less sunlight to power its systems. The communications unit that has been scanning for Philae will be turned off to save power. The lander has been silent since July 9, 2015.
Despite the botched landing, Philae did manage to teach scientists some valuable lessons. It discovered organic molecules, analyzed the internal structure of the comet, and showed that some cometary landing sites are softer than they look.
The Rosetta orbiter will carry on studying the comet and snapping awesome pictures for a few more months. Then, on September 30, the orbiter will join Philae as it intentionally crashes on the comet’s surface, taking novel measurements and hi-res snapshots as it goes.