Thu. Mar 23rd, 2023

Unless Matt Damon soon becomes stranded on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and needs an emergency call back to Earth, the world will never hear from the Rosetta spacecraft again. But the European vehicle has served humanity well since its launch 12 years ago. Rosetta became the first probe to both orbit a comet and place a lander on a comet’s surface. On Friday morning, the spacecraft joined its small lander, Philae, on the comet’s surface. Once there it closed.

Even before the European Space Agency’s Giotto spacecraft got within 600 km of the core of Halley’s Comet in 1986, the agency was already thinking of a comet lander as a follow-up mission. After its final launch in 2004, Rosetta took a long time to reach Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The probe had to fly past planets in the inner solar system four times (three around Earth, one around Mars) for gravity assist, and it traveled nearly five billion miles before descending to rest on Comet Friday. The gallery above captures some of the highlights of the 12-year mission.

From a scientific point of view, Rosetta confirms that comets are leftovers from when the solar system formed, rather than fragments of later collisions. Comets therefore provide a window to 4.6 billion years ago. The program was also a public relations success. “The astonishing journey of Rosetta and its Philae lander was not only a scientific and engineering triumph, but it also captured the world’s imagination and attracted new audiences far beyond the scientific community,” said Mark McCaughrean, ESA senior science advisor.

The Rosetta mission was largely successful, although the Philae lander was lost when the securing harpoons failed to fire after it reached the surface. Even after tumbling, the small lander still returned valuable data. And now scientists will spend the next few years interpreting data Rosetta spent more than two years collecting from its comet, including data from the probe’s final moments of descent.

List image by ESA

By akfire1

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