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Comet-riding space probe Philae wakes up

The European Space Agency says the comet lander Philae has come back to life after hibernating for seven months. It is the first communication with the probe since it landed in November.

The space craft, the first to ever land on a comet, began communicating with the European Space Agency (ESA) on Saturday, sending signals back to Earth.

"We only received data for about 85 seconds. These data are housekeeping and system data from the lander," Stephan Ulamec, project manager at the German Aerospace Center said.

"Philae is doing very well."

The robot was launched from its mothership Rosetta in November after a ten-year journey, as it circled the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The 100 kilogram (220 pound) lander

successfully touched down,

but failed to secure itself to the comet's surface with harpoons. It eventually came to rest at an angle in a dark ditch. Officials had worried the probe was stuck in the shadows, with

light unable to reach its solar panels

to provide it with power.

Scientists say they believe Philae is now receiving increasing amounts of sunlight as the comet is getting nearer to the Sun. They hope samples drilled from the rock and ice that make up comets will give more clues as to how the planets, and maybe even life, evolved. They will now try to send new commands to Philae to carry out new experiments.

Comet 67 is now around 215 million kilometers (134 million miles) from the Sun and about 305 million kilometers (190 million miles) from Earth. It will reach its closest point to the Sun on August 13, before veering off again into outer space. Researchers say the lander should now get enough light to keep operating until October, when it may permanently fall silent.

an/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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