Fascinating Rosetta image captures Philae's comet bounce

The hunt for Rosetta's lost lander Philae is gaining steam as scientists pore over images from above the comet that may help reveal its final location.

Rosetta saw Philae drifting across the comet. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The Rosetta mission's Philae lander made space history by successfully settling onto the surface of a comet last week, but it was a bumpy ride to get there. Philae touched down at its intended landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but then bounced back into space before touching down a second time, bouncing a little bit and coming to rest in a still-unknown location.

Rosetta and the European Space Agency team back on Earth are collectively playing Sherlock Holmes and attempting to sleuth out Philae's final resting place. The lander ended up in a shaded spot, an unfortunate location that meant the probe's solar panels couldn't collect enough light to recharge the batteries. Philae still managed to relay a considerable amount of data before the batteries drained and it went into sleep mode.

The ESA released an image Monday taken by Rosetta's OSIRIS camera showing Philae's first bounce on the comet. The mosaic includes a series of pictures tracking the lander descending toward the comet, the initial touchdown point and then an image of the lander moving east. "The imaging team is confident that combining the CONSERT ranging data with OSIRIS and navcam images from the orbiter and images from near the surface and on it from Philae's ROLIS and CIVA cameras will soon reveal the lander's whereabouts," says the ESA.

Philae and Rosetta spent over 10 years chasing down the comet, an epic journey that culminated in celebration at successfully landing a probe on a comet. This was tempered by Philae's unplanned hibernation, but the little lander still managed to complete its primary science mission and the Rosetta spacecraft remains in play as a force for science. It's possible that Philae, at some point, will have enough sunlight to reawaken and continue its investigation of the comet's surface. Regardless of the lander's ultimate fate, it still marks a major milestone in our study of space.