Sunday, June 14, 2015

PHILAE AWAKENS! Probe: "Hello Earth! Can You Hear Me?" Earth: "Yes, Little One, We Can Hear You! Keep On Talking, Baby!"


The Philae probe has awakened!

Philae wakes up: Tweet sent out early this morning by on behalf of the little probe by Rosetta mission control. Source here.


As you may recall, Philae was dispatched from the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe that is circling Comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko ("67P/C-G") last November to land on the dumb-bell shaped nucleus itself that is about 2.7 miles by 2.5 miles at its widest.

Comet 67P/C-G as seen from 17 kilometers away by the Rosetta probe on January 31, 2015.

This is a scary-looking comet. You don't want this anywhere near Earth. It would be like having Mount Rainier crash into Earth -- at up to 135,000 km/hour (84,000MPH). The energy unleashed would be akin to the Chesapeake Bay Bolide event of 35 million years ago. Not a Chicxulub extinction level event but, believe me, still bad enough.


Alas, the little probe bounced along the surface, its harpoon-like anchoring devices failing to secure in place, and Philae ended up in some crevice or "ditch" in darkness away from the distant Sun. In less than three days, its solar battery pack dwindled and the probe went into hibernation mode. But now, 7 months later, with the tumbling comet nearing solar perigee this August, Philae is back in sunlight and it woke up -- sending a message to it ESA mission control keepers. However, it is unclear if Philae will be able to remain "awake" and able to resume data collection.

Here is the AFP article in its entirety with pictures interspersed to break-up the text:

'Hello Earth!': Comet probe Philae wakes up

By Mariette Le Roux
June 14, 2015
Source here

Paris (AFP) - The European space probe Philae woke up overnight after nearly seven months in hibernation as it hurtled towards the Sun on the back of a comet, mission control said Sunday.

The tiny robot lab may be ready to resume science work, adding a fresh chapter to its extraordinary voyage, excited officials said.

"Hello Earth! Can you hear me?" the washing machine-sized lander tweeted under the hashtag #WakeUpPhilae.

Tweets sent out by Rosetta mission control at ESA today (June 14, 2015) on behalf of Rosetta and directed to Philae.


"We got a two-minute... successful communication" at 2228 Central European Time (2028 GMT) on Saturday, mission manager Patrick Martin told AFP from the operations centre in Madrid.

"This was sufficient to confirm that Philae is healthy and that its sub-systems are OK in terms of energy and temperature for ongoing communication with Rosetta," he said, referring to the lander's mothership orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The mission seeks to unlock the long-held secrets of comets -- primordial clusters of ice and dust that scientists believe may reveal how the Solar System was formed.

The 100-kilogramme (220-pound) robot lab touched down on "67P" on November 12 after an epic 10-year trek piggybacking on Rosetta.

Last seen: The Philae probe departs the Rosetta "mother ship" for its landing on Comet 67P/C-G on Nov. 12, 2015.


But instead of harpooning itself onto the dusty iceball's surface, Philae bounced several times before settling at an angle in a dark ditch.

It had enough stored battery power for about 60 hours of experiments, enabling it to send home reams of data before going into standby mode on November 15.

As "67P" drew closer to the Sun, scientists hoped better light would recharge Philae's batteries enough for it to reboot, then make contact, and ultimately carry out a new series of experiments.

After two failed bids to make contact in March and April, a new attempt was launched in May.

"We were surprised, yes, because we didn't expect it at all last night, on a weekend -- it's really exciting," Martin said.

An ESA statement said Philae communicated with its ground team for 85 seconds, and preliminary analysis of the data showed it must also have been awake earlier but unable to make contact.

Tweets sent out on behalf of Philae today (June 14, 2015) to Rosetta.


- 'Still a bit tired' -

According to Martin, the lander's temperature was about minus 36 degrees Celsius (-29 Fahrenheit) and its energy at 24 watts -- both higher than the minus 45 C and 19 watts required to operate.

"Philae is doing very well," said Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager with the German space agency DLR. "The lander is ready for operations."

Martin was more cautious, saying: "We have already lined up more communication windows which hopefully will see a repeat of this successful communication.

"If we get a stable communications pattern we should be able within a week or so to think about operating the instruments on board the lander."

Philae's instruments in a labeled diagram.


A tweet in the name of Rosetta announced: "Incredible news! My lander Philae is awake!", before prompting the robot to "take it easy for now" while checks are run to see that it is "fit, healthy and warm enough".

This prompted a Twitter response from Philae: "Oh, OK... I’m still a bit tired anyway... talk to you later!"

NASA tweeted "Rise and shine!" while Britain's usually staid Royal Observatory shouted: "YES!!!"

Royal Observatory tweet sent out on June 14, 2015 welcoming the news that Philae had awoken.


The comet and its precious cargo are 215 million kilometres (134 million miles) from the Sun and 305 million km from Earth, racing at a speed of 31.24 km a second, according to ESA's website.

Rosetta and Philae have travelled an accumulated distance of 6.9 billion km.

The Philae lander search area circled in red in an image taken by Rosetta on Dec. 13, 2014.


By August 13 the comet will reach its closest point to the Sun, or perihelion, before veering off again into the deeper reaches of space.

There are still more than 8,000 data packets in Philae's mass memory to be analysed, according to ESA.

Philae's operators hope that the new data will allow them to pinpoint the lab's exact location on the comet, which has so far been narrowed to an area of about 100-200 metres (328-656 feet).


All I have to say is:

Keep talking, Philae! We want to hear everything you have to say about "Life on a Comet"!

You, Rosetta, and New Horizons (just one month from Pluto!) are doing us proud!


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