Goodnight, Sweet Prince

The batteries aboard the European Space Agency’s Philae comet lander drained Saturday, shutting down the washing machine-sized probe after an adventurous and largely unscripted 57-hour mission.

Photos and other data relayed by Philae show it landed against a cliff or crater wall where there was little sunlight to recharge its batteries. Racing against the clock, scientists activated a series of automated experiments, the first to be conducted from the surface of a comet.

Before dying, Philae defied the odds and radioed its results back to Earth for analysis.

Its last task was to re-position itself so that as the comet soars toward the sun, Philae’s batteries may recharge enough for a follow-on mission. Scientists are particularly interested in learning about the chemical composition of any organic molecules in samples drilled out from the comet’s body.

Comets are believed to be pristine remnants from the formation of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. They contain rock and ice that have preserved ancient organic molecules like a time capsule and may provide insight into how the planets and life evolved.

Rosetta in August became the first spacecraft to put itself into orbit around a comet and it will accompany the comet as it travels toward the sun for at least another 13 months.

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