Almost two years after it made history by becoming the first spacecraft ever to set down on a comet, the European Space Agency’s Philae lander has finally been located.
Photos taken Sept. 2, 2016, by the agency’s Rosetta space probe show the main body of the lander and two of its three legs wedged in a dark crack on the surface of the smaller of the two lobes that make up Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Rosetta successfully deployed Philae onto Comet 67P on Nov. 12, 2014, after a 10-year space journey. But Philae disappointed scientists when it entered “hibernation” mode just days later because it had landed in a shady spot that caused depletion of its solar-powered batteries. Exactly where on the surface the lander was located had been unknown.
“This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search,” Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta Mission Manager, said in a written statement. “We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever.”
The discovery of Philae’s location doesn’t mean the lander can be awakened. But scientists say it could help them make better sense of the data it beamed back before it went to sleep, the BBC reported.
On Sept. 30, 2016, Rosetta will descend toward the comet’s surface on a final, one-way mission to take a closer look at 67P and to make observations that could help reveal more about its interior.
Comet 67P orbits the sun about once every 6 1/2 years at a distance ranging from 800 million to 186 million kilometers (497 million to 116 million miles).