TECH

Rosetta's Philae Comet Lander 'May Be About To Wake Up'

18/12/2014 10:56 GMT | Updated 18/12/2014 11:59 GMT

The European space craft which became the first man-made object to land on a comet in November might be about to 'wake up from the dead'.

The Rosetta Space Craft's Philae lander made a bumpy touchdown when it reached the surface of comet 67P.

After an ecstatically received initial landing at the correct spot, systems designed to secure the lander to the surface of the comet failed, including an 'ice spike' an thrusters, and it rebounded into space.

Eventually it was pulled down by the comet's weak gravity, but ended up after its tumultuous journey wedged in shadow at the edge of a cliff.

After a few precious hours gathering scientific data the comet's batteries wore down and it went into a deep hibernation.

But now European Space Agency scientists say it's almost summer on Comet 67P - and if the comet continues to rotate, there's a good chance enough light will hit its solar panels to recharge and get the lander back online.

philae

"Pessimistically, it will be after Easter, (but optimistically) it will be much prior to that," Philae lead scientist Jean-Pierre Bibring said during a news conference at the American Geophysical Union, according to Space.com.

"It all depends on how the sun will go over the horizon, the local horizon."

Scientists remain unsure as to when exactly it might wake up, because they have still failed to actually find it. Pictures from the surface have been beamed back, but pinpointing the lander is proving tricky.

But they said they are pleased that the comet lander has produced useful research already - and are confident that the lander and its 10 science instruments should survive the cold, and be able to wake up effectively if and when there is enough light to bring them into operation.

In fact by landing in the shade (however accidentally) scientists think they may have extended the lander's life -- if left in direct sunlight it is probable Philae would have died anyway due to the heat. Now it's possible scientists will get another peak at the comet, and far later than they would have expected.