Drilling into a distant comet and getting the news back to Earth…
That was the latest success for the Philae lander – before it fell into standby mode, its battery exhausted.
Scientists with the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission did not know if the robotic probe would be able to re-establish radio contact.
But defying the odds, 500 million km away, Philae, the first robotic probe to land on a comet, didn’t disappoint.
The results of its drilling exploits are still pending, but on Friday Philae made a belated radio call via the orbiting Rosetta mothership, reporting that its drill successfully operated.
“First comet drilling is a fact!” ESA posted on Twitter.
One of the most important tasks for the 100kg probe was to obtain samples from inside the comet for chemical analysis.
Comets are believed to be pristine remnants from the formation of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. They contain rock and ice that have preserved ancient organic molecules like a time capsule and may provide insight into how the planets and life evolved.
On Wednesday, Philae failed to anchor itself as planned on the comet’s body when it landed. Photographs and other data relayed by the probe indicate it is trapped in shadow.
With battery power dwindling, scientists decided to try to reposition the lander so its solar panels could recharge.
Will it work? When will we hear from Philae again? Or was her latest message her last?
This gripping space saga continues…