The Philae Lander has been in hibernation and missing for the past two years. European Space Agency researchers had no idea where it was, but recently managed to come across the Lander on a giant comet 700 million kilometers away from Earth.
Many folks had given up on seeing the Philae Lander ever again, and time was running out. However, scientists got lucky as they triumphed in the last hour.
On Sunday, the Osiris camera from the Rosetta spacecraft spotted the Philae Lander stuck in a spot on Comet 67P, also known as the Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The oversaturated image was released on Monday by the ESA, and this is due to two years of hard work.
"It was a huge adrenaline rush to see this image on Sunday night," said Laurence O'Rourke, Rosetta mission scientist, in a recent interview with Gizmodo. "To have searched for this object on the surface for so long, and finally gotten an image of this quality and detail, was such a reward."
Scientists decided to begin the search for the Philae Lander soon after it went missing back on Nov. 12, 2014. Researchers had a broad idea of where Philae had landed due to images taken before the batteries died.
Researchers were also not certain if the craft had managed to stay in its original position because it was possible for a cometary outburst to push it into a different zone. Had this happened, Philae would not have been found today.
What did researchers do? Well, they began to go through all the data collected from both Philae and Osiris. Images from the Philae Lander were also inspected to help scientists hone in on the exact location, or at least close to it.
It was believed that the Lander's final resting spot was at an area of the comet known as Abydos. However, it was difficult to spot the craft via Rosetta's early flyby.
Things got rather interesting after Philae woke up in the summer of 2015 and sent a signal back to Earth. This allowed O'Rourke and his team to narrow the location of the Lander down to just a few meters in diameter. However, the researchers had to wait until early this spring for Rosetta to capture a high-definition image of the Philae Lander trapped on the comet's surface.
We expect this finding to help ESA and researchers make better plans when it comes to the future of space travel. It should also make it a little be easier when it comes to locating future landers that might get lost on a comet.