Comet lander ends up in cliff shadow
Published 9:18 am Thursday, November 13, 2014
BERLIN — Europe’s comet lander Philae has come to rest in the shadow of a cliff, posing a potential problem for its solar panels, scientists from the European Space Agency said Thursday as they published its first image from the surface of a comet.
The photo sent back to Earth shows a rocky surface, with one of the lander’s three feet in the corner of the frame.
Philae is still stable despite a failure to latch on properly to the comet’s rocky terrain, mission scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said, adding that it appears to be standing on just two of its three feet but its scientific instruments are operating normally.
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The lander scored a historic first Wednesday, touching down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a decade-long, 6.4 billion-kilometer (4 billion-mile) journey through space aboard its mother ship, Rosetta. The comet is streaking through space at 41,000 mph (66,000 kph) some 311 million miles (500 million kilometers) from Earth.
Philae has enough power for about 64 hours and solar panels to extend that for an expected hour each day. Ground controllers are going to see whether it’s possible to adjust the lander to make sure its solar panels can catch the sun and charge its batteries, Bibring told reporters.
“We are just in the shadow of a cliff,” Bibring said, adding photos indicate the cliff could be just a few yards (meters) away. “We are in a shadow permanently, and that is part of the problem.”