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With One More Comet Landing Rosetta’s “Rock and Roll” Mission is Ended

ESA's Rosetta mission has come to an end with the spacecraft's impact on Sept. 30, 2016. (Illustration by ESA/ATG medialab)

ESA’s Rosetta mission has come to an end with the spacecraft’s impact on Sept. 30, 2016. (Illustration by ESA/ATG medialab)

Rosetta is down. I repeat: Rosetta is down.

This morning, Sept. 30, 2016, just after 10:39 UTC (6:39 a.m. EDT) ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission with an impact onto the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The descent, begun with a final burn of its thrusters about 14 hours earlier, was slow, stately, and deliberate, but even at a relative walking pace Rosetta was not designed to be a lander like its partner Philae and thus ceased operation upon contact with the comet.

With the comet 446 million miles (719 million km) from Earth at the time, the final signals from Rosetta were received 40 minutes after impact, officially confirming mission end.

Watch the emotional scene at ESA mission control as the last signals from Rosetta faded away after impact, with Ops Manager Sylvain Lodiot declaring LOS and end of mission.

Launched aboard an Ariane 5 from Kourou, French Guiana on March 2, 2004, Rosetta traveled 4.95 billion miles (7.97 billion km) over 12 and a half years, spending the last 26 months in orbit around comet 67P.

67P Feb18 2015

Colorized image of comet 67P/C-G acquired by Rosetta on Feb. 18, 2015

Even before reaching the comet on Aug. 6, 2014 Rosetta completed science goals, passing by Earth three times, Mars, and two previously-unvisited asteroids.

Bittersweet as the mission ending was, Rosetta continued collecting and returning images and science data about 67P up to the very end; it was an opportunity for the spacecraft to go out “like a rock star,” according to ESA mission scientist Matt Taylor.

“I don’t know what to say,” Taylor said during an interview as the spacecraft was descending. “But I’ll say something… Rosetta was rock and roll. It turned everything up to eleven.”

Rosetta captured images during its descent with its Navcam and OSIRIS cameras, showing the comet’s surface in amazing detail all the way down to the final OSIRIS image, taken from just 65 feet (20 meters) minutes before impact.

Comet 67P imaged by Rosetta on Sept. 30, 2016 (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Comet 67P imaged by Rosetta on Sept. 30, 2016 (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Comet 67P imaged by Rosetta from 5.8 km on Sept. 30, 2016 (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Comet 67P imaged by Rosetta from 5.8 km on Sept. 30, 2016 (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Rosetta's final image captured from 51 meters above 67P. (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Rosetta’s final image captured from 65 feet (20 meters) above 67P. (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

This mosaic shows the area around Rosetta’s final landing site, close to some active vents in the Ma’at region.

OSIRIS images captured by Rosetta on descent to comet 67P, Sept. 30 2016. (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

OSIRIS images captured by Rosetta on descent to comet 67P, Sept. 30 2016. (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Rosetta will now remain on the surface of 67P not far from the location of Philae, which landed in November 2014 and was just recently identified in an OSIRIS image after nearly two years of speculation about its final landing place.

The video below is a closing to ESA’s popular and adorable “Once Upon a Time” series that has accompanied the Rosetta mission. If you’ve been following the mission and you’re easily moved by animations, well…this one may will get you.

All in all, an amazing job by Rosetta, Philae, ESA, and all of the flight, instrument, and science teams that made the mission an incredible success. Thanks to their hard work and dedication over the years we now know more about our Solar System and comets especially than we ever did before, and the data Rosetta and Philae have provided us will be used for decades to come.

Rest well, little travelers.

“A culmination of tremendous scientific and technical success… Farewell Rosetta, you have done the job.”
— Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager

Learn more about the Rosetta mission here. 

rosetta_philae_67p

Rosetta and Philae will be with us—and Comet 67P—always.

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About Jason Major

Jason is a Rhode Island-based graphic designer, photographer, nature lover, space exploration fanatic, and coffee addict. In no particular order.

Posted on September 30, 2016, in Comets and Asteroids and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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