Sunday, January 10, 2016

O/T Space Science: Likely "Last Chance" For ESA Rosetta's Comet Lander -- Philae -- To "Phone Home"

FINAL UPDATE @ 7 PM EST on 01.12.2016: There was no response from the flywheel command. Fare-well little buddy!

For well over a year, on and off, we have covered the ESA (European space agency) mission to soft-land a washing-machine sized "probe-bot", on the narrow neck of a comet called 67P.

Strictly speaking, this is not a life sciences story -- nor is it pharma -- but it does entail (perhaps at least one part of) the science of how life came to be, here on Earth -- and thus at least as likely, elsewhere. So we will note -- with both fond sentiment, and some small sliver of optimism -- what is likely the ESA's last real shot at hearing from little Philae one last time, before the arc of the comet's highly elliptical orbit drags the lander into an essentially permanent, frozen (negative 65 degrees) night. From there, the little guy won't ever restart -- its batteries will be dead.

So right about now, a last attempt to spin up Philae's flywheel (by a radio command sequence), and shake it into a better solar orientation -- is being undertaken. Even so, we will likely only get a few more packets of data transmitted should the solar arrays catch enough sunlight, and thus power, to start phoning home, anew. Here is tonight's Tech Times on it all:

. . . .Time is running out for the comet lander Philae, which has been in hibernation since July 9 last year. . . .

The European Space Agency (ESA) is doing all [it can] to wake up the long-silent comet lander. European scientists will transmit a signal into space on Sunday, Jan. 10, to try to nudge Philae back to life and hopefully restore contact.

"There is a small chance. We want to leave no stone unturned," said Cinzia Fantinati, operations manager from DLR or the German Aerospace Center's Philae control team. . . .

Currently, comet 67P is moving away from the sun, travelling at a speed as fast as 135,000 kilometers (83,885 miles) per hour. At the end of January, the conditions on the comet will be unsuitable for Philae.

Comet 67P will be more than 186 million miles away, making the temperature levels on the surface drop to negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The DLR team said this is too cold for Philae's equipment to operate. . . .

Onward, then -- to a sharply cold, but sunny and snow-covered Monday, ahead here in the City of Big Shoulders! Be well, see much, and fly far, little lander! 'Tis likely we shan't ever speak again, at least of this little one. . . smile.

UPDATED: Maybe this morning Ziggy Stardust is riding with Philae, silently off into that celestial void. . . That's a grin-worthy possibility, indeed.

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