A space probe that European scientists lost two years ago after it crash-landed on a comet, lost battery power and got stuck in a "dark crack" has been found, the European Space Agency said Monday.
The missing Philae robot was located Friday by cameras attached to the agency's in-orbit Rosetta spacecraft. Images showed Philae's distinctive box shape and two of its three legs wedged underneath a rocky overhang on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
"This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search,” said Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager. “We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever."
The agency launched Rosetta in 2004 and after 10 years spent catching up with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, a frozen mass that is part of the Jupiter family and is about 3 miles wide, it finally dropped the smaller Philae lander on the comet in Nov. 2014. It was the first time scientists had landed a probe on a comet.
Its mission was to capture information about the comet's composition and to transmit it back to Earth.
But Philae bounced after its initial touchdown and its precise whereabouts were not known. It sent data back to Earth for about three days before its solar battery ran out and it went into hibernation, only to recharge enough as the comet came closer to the sun. It briefly communicated with Rosetta in mid-2015.
“This wonderful news means that we now have the missing ‘ground-truth’ information needed to put Philae’s three days of science into proper context," said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist. "Now that we know where that ground actually is!” he added.
Philae's discovery comes less than a month before the Rosetta spacecraft itself is due on Sept. 30 to descend to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. However, Rosetta's mission will be deliberately one-way: Scientists intend to crash-land it on the comet so it can investigate it close up and hopefully reveal secrets about its structure.
RELATED VIDEO | NASA releases video of Juno approaching Jupiter