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Philae - Lost....and Found!

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By Catherine Hardy  with ESA
Philae - Lost....and Found!

The final resting place of Europe’s comet landing craft Philae has been found.

The small craft can be picked out in new images taken from the Rosetta probe in orbit at a height of 2.7 kilometres around the comet where Philae landed.

euronews space correspondent Jeremy Wilks chats with Rosetta team members Pablo Muñoz and Armelle Hubaultand at ESA’s operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, on the finding of groundbreaking space probe Philae

When was it lost?

Philae was dropped onto the comet – full name 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – by Rosetta in November 2014.

67P is informally known as the “Space duck” because of its unusual shape.

The landing was considered a feat of precision space travel. The metre-high, 100 kilo probe bounced several times before getting stuck against a cliff wall.

The module’s battery ran flat 60 hours later and it fell silent.

So what happened to Philae?

Scientists assumed the lander had fallen into a deep crevice on touchdown.

The images received show it wedged under a large over-hang known as “Abydos”.

Can the scientists get it back?

They say there is no hope.

Its equipment will have been irreparably damaged in the extreme cold of deep space.

However, the experts think knowing where Philae ended up will help them make sense of the data it sent back.

“This wonderful news means that we now have the missing ‘ground’ information needed to put Philae’s three days of science into proper context, now that we know where that ground is,” said ESA Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor.

The discovery also comes a few weeks before the Rosetta probe itself will be deliberately crash-landed on the comet to end its mission.

Euronews’ space correspondent Jeremy Wilks reports on the finding of groundbreaking space probe Philae

It was Paolo Ferri who broke the news to me today that Philae had been found, as he arrived for an interview we were scheduled to record for Euronews’ Space series about Rosetta’s final moments. “It’s a great day for ESA today,” he smiled, and knowing nothing at that point, I responded, “Why’s that?”

“We found Philae on the comet!” exclaimed ESA’s head of mission operations, his eyes full of the emotion that so many in the space community feel when talking about this remarkable mission. It turns out that the Rosetta team has been searching for Philae quite intensively for the past month or so, and had all but given up hope of finding the little lander, which was last heard from in summer 2015.

“It’s not just emotional, it’s great for science,” Ferri told me. “But there were plenty of tears in the eyes of the team when we told them this morning, that’s for sure.”

Philae was found on one of the last passes the Rosetta mothership would make over the landing zone, as it prepares to end its own mission on 30th September by slowly and deliberately crashing onto the comet, self-destructing in the process.

One of the reasons the Rosetta and Philae mission provokes such emotion is its long history, stretching back into the early careers of many of the scientists and spacecraft operations experts who are now senior staff close to retirement. The other has been the sustained media and public reaction to one of the most daring displays of spaceflight in history.

The team now has the exact position of the lander, and can put all that data about its landing into context. That final bit of missing data will mean many puzzles about Philae’s trajectory when it ‘bounced’ on the comet and dropped into its shadowy resting place should eventually be solved.

The story of Philae – in tweets

Read the full story of Philae from the ESAhere