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Philae comet lander goes silent once again

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
July 20, 2015
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It looks like the Philae comet lander's moment in the sun was short-lived. Just weeks after getting back in touch, the European ground crew has once again lost contact with its celestial explorer -- the lander is sending irregular bursts of data, but that's about it. It's not clear as to what went wrong, but scientists suspect that comet gas or some other unexpected phenomenon moved Philae and blocked it from collecting that all-important, energy-giving sunlight. To make matters worse, one of its transmitters also appears to be out of commission.

The team has sent a command that will (hopefully) have Philae fall back to using a single transmitter, and the host Rosetta probe is moving to an orbit that should help it get in touch. However, the odds aren't working in researchers' favor. The closer the comet gets to the Sun, the more dust and ice it casts off -- Rosetta may have to keep its distance and limit its communication opportunities. While this state of affairs beats the months of deep sleep from before, it's evident that this mission still isn't going according to plan.

[Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab]

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