European probe plants thermometer on comet

Europe’s Philae lander is doing well and has succeeded in planting a thermometer in the comet where it touched down this week, the European Space Agency says.

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Scientists have received a steady stream of data from the lander, which on Wednesday became the first spacecraft to touch down on a comet and has since sent its first images from the surface of the body, known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

However, their job is complicated by the fact that Philae landed next to a cliff that is blocking sunlight from its solar panels.

Planting a thermometer in the surface was Philae’s first so-called “mechanical operation” but ESA says it will hold off on any more for now.

Scientists hope to drill into the comet to extract some of the material buried beneath the surface of the comet, which is streaking through space at 66,000 kilometres per hour some 500 million kilometres from Earth.

The lander’s primary battery only has power for another day or so and mission controllers are contemplating how they might realign it so that the solar panels can charge the craft. An update on the mission from ESA was scheduled for later on Friday.

Two harpoons that should have anchored the washing machine-sized Philae to the surface weren’t deployed during Wednesday’s landing.

That caused the lander to bounce off the comet and drift through the void for two hours before touching down again. After a second, smaller bounce, scientists believe it came to rest in a shallow crater on the comet’s 4km wide body, or nucleus.

Communication with the lander is slow, with signals taking more than 28 minutes to travel between Earth and Philae’s mother ship, the Rosetta orbiter flying above the comet.