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Philae, The Little Robot That Landed On A Comet, Is Dead

It's kind of like the scene at the end of Wall-E, except that Philae probably won't be revived and help build a new world.

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Philae, the boxy little robot that landed on a comet, is being laid to rest.

It’s time for me to say goodbye. Tomorrow, the unit on @ESA_Rosetta for communication with me will be switched off forever...

It's been silent since July 2015, but its mothership, the European Space Agency (ESA) probe Rosetta, has kept its lines of communication open in case Philae woke up again. Now Rosetta is cutting it off.

My power is decreasing so far from the Sun I can no longer listen for @philae2014:

ESA scientists think that Philae is "in a state of eternal hibernation", which seems to be a rather more technical way of saying "dead".

It's looked since January as though Philae had probably come to the end of its exciting life.

ESA / Via

A final long-shot attempt to get in touch with it failed, and it was hurtling – with its comet – out into the dark of deep space, away from the sun's energy.

In an update on its website in February, the ESA said Philae was "very unlikely to recover".

“The chances for Philae to contact our team at our lander control centre are unfortunately getting close to zero,” says Stephan Ulamec, Philae project manager at the German Aerospace Center, DLR. “We are not sending commands any more and it would be very surprising if we were to receive a signal again.”


In 2014, the Rosetta space mission managed to catch up with a comet after a 4-billion-mile journey.

ESA / Rosetta / Via

It fell silently through space for 10 years, all its equipment switched off to save energy, before blinking into life and parking itself in orbit around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (pictured), sending back the first close-up photos of a comet ever.

Rosetta also managed to land a little robot, called Philae, on the comet itself. Philae became something of a Twitter star as it did so.

It’s me… landing on a comet & feeling good! MT @ESA_Rosetta: I see you too! #CometLanding

Philae is a little thing about the size of a fridge. It separated from Rosetta, which was orbiting about 20 miles away from the comet, and slowly – over seven hours, sending jaunty tweets all the way – fell to the surface, where it was meant to latch on to the surface using harpoons and thrusters.

But it all went a bit wrong when Philae tried to land. Instead of settling smoothly, it bounced more than half a mile back out into space, and landed in the shadow of a cliff.

Now that I’m safely on the ground, here is what my new home #67P looks like from where I am. #CometLanding

The gravity on the comet is only 1/10,000th of Earth's, so even a very gentle bounce launched it a long way. And being in shadow meant that it couldn't recharge its batteries using its solar panels as effectively. It had 60 hours of battery life, and sent back some interesting scientific results, but then it went into hibernation.

As the comet flew closer to the sun – and brought its robot escorts with it – Philae managed to get a bit more sunshine on its face, and revived itself briefly.

Hello @ESA_Rosetta! I'm awake! How long have I been asleep? #Lifeonacomet

In June last year, it got enough energy to send back some of the data stored in its hard disk. But it lost contact again in July, with lots of vital information about the comet still stuck on board.


Then the comet began heading away from the sun again, so Philae got darker and colder. In January, scientists made one last attempt to revive it.

Still listening for @Philae2014. Control team will send command to spin up flywheel. (PC)

They sent a message ordering the lander to fire up its flywheel, in the hope that the vibrations would shake any dust off its solar panels and let it get more sun. It was a long shot – "an admittedly desperate move," as Philippe Gaudon, of the French National Space Agency, told AFP. "It is very unlikely the robot will become functional again."

But they never received any response.

@isapinza The commands for @Philae2014 were executed as planned, but no signal was received. (KR)

So Philae will be silent for eternity now.

@isapinza There are communication opportunities twice a day until 21 Jan, after which @ESA_Rosetta will fly to the southern hemisphere (KR)

Still, it had a hell of a run. In its shortish life, it travelled billions of miles, landed on a comet, and made exciting scientific discoveries.

20th Century Fox / ESA / Buzzfeed / Tom Chivers / Via

We now know more about what comets are made of than we ever could have without it. And now its fate is tied to the comet's. The ESA Rosetta Mission told BuzzFeed News that 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko's orbit is slowly changing – each time it comes past Jupiter, it is forced a little closer to the sun. It may also be that the comet is breaking up and won't survive many more orbits anyway. Of course, if it does break up, Rosetta and Philae will be destroyed with it (unless they escape – artist's impression of that shown above).

If you're sad about it, you can do something! The ESA wants the public to send postcards to Philae, filled with memories of Earth.

I’m far from Earth&Sun!I’d love to take memories of YOU with me. Please send me a postcard from home! #GoodbyePhilae

Let's not kid ourselves though, Philae won't get to read them. It's dead and frozen in the eternal dark. But it might make you feel better, idk.

😭 😭 😭 😭 😭 😭 😭 😭 😭 😭