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Sitting in the shade under a cliff and on its side, engineers have until Saturday to nudge it into brighter territory before Philae’s batteries go dead.
One of Philae’s major scientific goals is to analyse the comet for organic molecules. To do that, the lander must get samples from the comet into several different instruments, named Ptolemy, Cosac and Civa. There are two ways to do this: sniffing and drilling. Sniffing involves opening the instruments to allow molecules from the surface to drift inside. The instruments are already doing this and returning data.
Drilling is much riskier because it could make the lander topple over. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the minuscule gravity of the comet, any movement on Philae will cause motion. The drill turning one way will make Philae want to turn the other. Pushing down into the surface will push the lander off again. “We don’t want to start drilling and end the mission,” said Bibring.
But the team has decided to operate another moving instrument, named Mupus, on Thursday evening. This could cause Philae to shift, but calculations show that it would be in a direction that could improve the amount of sunlight falling on the probe. A change in angle of only a few degrees could help. A new panoramic image will be taken after the Mupus deployment to see if there has been any movement.