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Philae lander wakes up on surface of comet, tweets ‘Hello Earth!’

Jun 14, 20153 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

After seven months of hibernation, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander woke up on the surface of a comet and tweeted "Hello, Earth!"

How about some good news for a change and something cool to boot? The European Space Agency’s Philae lander woke up on the surface of a comet and tweeted “Hello Earth!”

Philae awoke on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko; the image of the comet below was captured by Rosetta on March 14 2015.

Rosetta is an ESA space probe launched in March 2004 along with Rosetta’s lander module Philae. In August 2014, Rosetta reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a massive comet which is about 2.7 miles long by 2.5 miles wide with a max velocity of 84,000 mph.

In November 2014, Philae touched down on its surface and became the first spacecraft to land on a comet nucleus. The landing was troublesome as Philae bounced twice, leaving the lander parked in the shade. Although Philae was supposed work for months, it worked for only 60 hours before going dark.

Rosetta has been “listening” for its lander since March 2015. On June 13, seven months after Philae went into hibernation, the ESA’s European Space Operations Center received signals for 85 seconds from the lander. Apparently Philae has been awake and collecting data for some time, but only now collected enough sun in its solar panels to communicate with Earth.

“Philae is doing very well,” explained DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “It has an operating temperature of -35°C and has 24 Watts available. The lander is ready for operations.”

Although teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center have analyzed more than 300 data packets, they still need to analyze over 8,000 data packets which are in Philae’s mass memory in order to understand what happened to the lander in the past few days. Ulamec added, “We have also received historical data – so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier.”

After Philae tweeted hello to Earth, it “tweeted” to the ESA Rosetta Mission.

In June, NASA announced that data collected by its Alice instrument aboard Rosetta led to a comet atmosphere discovery: “electrons close to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — not photons from the sun, as had been believed — cause the rapid breakup of water and carbon dioxide molecules spewing from the comet’s surface.”

Alan Stern, principal investigator for the Alice instrument, said, “The discovery we’re reporting is quite unexpected. It shows us the value of going to comets to observe them up close, since this discovery simply could not have been made from Earth or Earth orbit with any existing or planned observatory. And, it is fundamentally transforming our knowledge of comets.”

There’s no telling what else we might learn as Philae rides the comet and Rosetta escorts it as Churyumov–Gerasimenko orbits the sun.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.