Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Scientists debating last-ditch gamble on 'hopping' Philae to a sunnier spot

Scientists racing against time to keep the Philae comet lander operating are facing a tense decision on whether to take a last-ditch gamble and “hop” the probe to a new location.

After bouncing twice, the lander came to rest in the shadow of a cliff on the comet – meaning the solar panels designed to recharge its batteries have been rendered useless.

And with less than 24 hours to go before its primary battery power runs dry, mission controllers are actively considering taking the risk of using the probe’s landing gear to shift it to a sunnier spot.

The first image from the Philae probe shows the cliff shielding it from the sun Credit: European Space Agency

British scientist Prof Ian Wright, one of the Philae’s leading investigators, said they had to weigh up whether to use the craft’s remaining power to try to move it, or to collect as many samples as possible in the time left.

There's no manual for this. We're having to respond to what we think we're dealing with. The balance we have to strike is using power to rescue the craft and using power to do some science.

There's no rule book for this stuff. People are very tired and thinking about it as well as they can. Clearly we're potentially heading towards the end, but if we could get it out into a bit more sunlight then things will improve.

In actual fact these movements don't take up a lot of power. There is a slight worry that if you try to move something it might make things worse. It might topple over. But clearly if you're getting to the end there's no harm in having a go.

It's a complete unknown, but we should be taking risks. There's no point in not doing that.

– Prof Ian Wright
This image shows the surface of the comet shortly before the Philae probe landed Credit: European Space Agency

The probe made a historic landing on comet67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday after a 10-year journey aboard the Rosetta spaceship.

Instead of the expected six or seven hours of sunlight per 12-hour day, Philae is only receiving one-and-a-half, which is not enough to keep it operational.

More on this story