With evidence of water existing on this small rocky body in our solar system, there have been multiple pictures of two distinct bright spots, seemingly in the same crater. I really excited for the Dawn craft to enter Ceres' orbit. What could these bright spots mean? "Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles. I envy those that will come after my time, when so much more will be known about our cosmos.
With Philae now receiving twice as much solar energy as it did last November when it finally came to rest in a shaded spot on Comet 67P, the communication unit on the Rosetta orbiter has now been switched on to call the lander. Although it is probably still too cold for the lander to wake up, the prospects will improve with each passing day.
Several conditions must be met for Philae to start operating again. First, the interior of the lander must be at least at –45ºC before Philae can wake up from its winter sleep. At its new landing site – Abydos – only a little sunlight reaches Philae, and the temperatures are significantly lower than at the originally planned landing location. In addition, the lander must be able to generate at least 5.5 watts using its solar panels to wake up.
As soon as Philae ‘realises’ that it is receiving more than 5.5 watts of power and its internal temperature is above –45ºC, it will turn on, heat up further and attempt to charge its battery.
Once awakened, Philae switches on its receiver every 30 minutes and listens for a signal from the Rosetta orbiter. This, too, can be performed in a very low power state.
It could be that the lander has already woken up from its winter sleep some 500 million kilometres away from Earth, but does not yet have sufficient power to communicate with Rosetta, which relays Philae’s signal back to Earth. Philae needs a total of 19 watts to begin operating and allow two-way communication. Between 12 and 20 March, the Rosetta orbiter is transmitting to the lander and listening for a response. The most likely time for contact is during the 11 flybys where the orbiter’s path puts it in a particularly favourable position with respect to the lander during comet ‘daytime’ – when Philae is in sunlight and being supplied with power by its solar panels. Communication will be attempted continuously because Philae’s environment could have changed since landing in November 2014.