Comet probe sends home science treasure in final hours

Comet probe sends home  science treasure in final hours

Europe’s science probe Philae sent home a treasure trove of data from a comet heading towards the sun, before falling silent as its power ran out, said mission control on Saturday.

Crowning a historic feat, the robot lab streamed data from its experiments to its mother ship Rosetta in the final hours as its battery ran out.

This included the outcome of an eagerly-waited chemistry test of a sample drilled from the comet’s icy and dusty surface, said scientists.

“Rosetta’s lander has completed its primary science mission,” said the European Space Agency (ESA).

Lacking power, its instruments and most systems went into standby mode after three days of non-stop work, sending back data that will keep scientists busy for years.

“The data collected by Philae and Rosetta is set to make this mission a game-changer in cometary science,” said Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor.

Philae had landed in a dark shadow after a bouncy triple touchdown on Wednesday. It did not get enough sunlight to recharge its batteries sufficiently to extend its mission beyond its initial 60-hour work programme.

Mission engineers do not rule out making contact with the lander in the coming months as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko moves closer to the sun.  Conceived more than 20 years ago, the Rosetta mission aims at shedding light on the origins of the Solar System 4.6 billion years ago, and maybe even life on earth.

A theory gaining ground in astrophysics is that the fledgling earth was pounded by these bodies of cosmic ice and carbon-rich dust, seeding our planet with the basics to start life. Rosetta and its payload travelled more than 6 billion km, racing around the inner Solar System before they caught up with the comet in August.

On Wednesday, Philae bade farewell to its mother ship and descended to a comet, travelling at 18 km per second, 510 million km from earth.

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