Philae Lives!

PhilaeBack on 17 November 2014, I reported, The Resurrection of Philae. It was a hopeful headline, because I was relating the fact that Philae had died. You may remember that there was a lot of excitement the world over — including here at Frankly Curious — when the Rosetta space craft managed to get into a stable orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Part of the excitement of this mission was that that Rosetta was going to look for organic material on the comet. It is widely speculated that the organic material on the Earth was seeded to it by comet impacts.

Part of this search for organic material was going to be done by the Philae probe that landed on the comet. Unfortunately, the system designed to anchor Philae onto the comet failed. This resulted in Philae bouncing around on the comet for two hours before finally stopping at the bottom of a cliff. This was unfortunate, because it meant that the solar panels on the unit would get very little sunlight. And thus, in just a couple of days — on 14 November 2014 — Philae powered down when its battery died. It was a sad day. But it wasn’t the end. There was still the hope that when 67P got closer to the sun, little Philae would power back up.

At 4:33 this morning, the world got the following tweet:

It then tweeted to Rosetta asking, “How long have I been aleep?” To which many people responded gleefully including mars_stu who responded with great cheek, “a long time… humans now hunted by apes riding horses, but don’t worry about it…”

Back in January, I had made my peace with the death of Philae, Organic Macromolecules on Comet P67. That was a very big deal. Actually, for me, that was the one big thing that I cared about. Comets are interesting in that they may well have been the primary sources of the Earth’s water and organic matter that led us to today when we have this amazing oasis of life.

In that article, I wrote:

The main thing to remember is that it is this kind of science that the Rosetta mission is all about. Here in the United States, we tend to focus on the technology side of it, “Hooray! We got a spaceship to orbit a comet! We landed on a comet!” But that’s just the means of doing something much greater. The objective of the mission is to better understand the origins of the solar system. And that work will be going on for years to come.

I still believe that. But I will admit that the fact that Philae has managed to wake itself up and get back to work is exciting based only on the cool technology that allows this. Of course, even more exciting is that Philae will get back to work. And given that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has an orbital period of six and half years, it is possible that Philae will go back to sleep in a few months, only to wake up again six years from now. And then again and again and again. This really is great stuff — the best of what we are!


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