The European Space Agency's Philae lander, deployed onto the surface of the comet 67-P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko in November 2014, has begun to transmit data from the comet surface, as Cambridge astrophysicist Zephyr Penoyre explains to Chris Smith...
Zephyr - Some fantastic news came through I think this morning to everyone which is that Philae, the probe that is on the Rosetta mission on a comet that we’d lost for the last few months has turned back on. I don’t know how many people remember, but when it first hit the comet, the plan was to harpoon it and stay in place. The harpoons may or may not have worked. They certainly didn’t work fully because it bounced, almost enough that it was lost from the comet and settled back down in a deep dark crater. It’s just now got – because the comet is orbiting the sun – got far enough rounds that light is reaching the probe and it’s turned back on and is transmitting again. This is fantastic because this may well – we weren’t sure if this was going to happen or not. We were hopeful, but it’s really gratifying to see and we will hopefully get all the data that the mission could’ve found back to Earth now.
Chris - It’s pretty impressive to have managed to land a tiny object on another tiny object so far from home and that actually, it is now sending that data back. What do they hope to learn about the comet that it’s on? Why is it important that they’ve gone there?
Zephyr - So, the really important thing about comets is that most of the water on Earth which obviously, we wouldn’t have life without, has come from comets. Working out what kind of form that water is in, what chemicals are in it, which could also be helping to make life. Even possibly if there could be life on a comet itself. There are theories that life has come to Earth via a comet. This will help us probe all these kinds of things, actually being there on a comet, taking some readings...