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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.

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Rosetta Finally Found Its Lost Philae Lander

Rosetta's OSIRIS camera team has found the silent Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P

Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera team has found the silent Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P

Nearly two years after its historic landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA’s lander has finally been spotted in an image from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft—PHILAE HAS BEEN FOUND!

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Venus’ Water Has Been Electrified Away

ESA's Venus Express has detected a surprisingly strong electric field at Venus – the first time this has been measured at any planet. (ESA–C. Carreau)

Venus Express has detected a surprisingly strong electric field at Venus – the first time this has been measured at any planet. (ESA–C. Carreau)

Using data gathered by ESA’s Venus Express researchers have determined what likely happened to Venus’ water: it was “zapped” away by a surprisingly strong electric field generated by the planet’s atmosphere and the incoming solar wind. Without a protective magnetosphere like Earth has, Venus’ upper atmosphere directly interacts with energetic particles streaming out from the Sun. The result is an electric field that’s at least five times more powerful* than those that might exist on Earth or Mars, strong enough to strip away oxygen ions—one of the two key ingredients for water.

It’s truly an electrifying discovery. (When you’re done groaning, read on…)

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Europe’s Sentinel-3A Returns Gorgeous “First Light” Earth Images

Day to night transition over Norway captured by ESA's Sentinel 3A satellite. Credit: Copernicus data (2016).

Day to night transition over Norway captured by ESA’s Sentinel 3A satellite. Credit: Copernicus data (2016).

Captured by the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite on Feb. 29, 2016, this beautiful composition of blacks, purples, and blues shows the twilight transition across the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located north of the Arctic Circle between Norway and the North Pole.  The snow-covered and fjord-cut large island of Spitsbergen can be seen at the right edge, while sea ice and clouds follow their own swirling currents on and above the Greenland sea.

This is the first image acquired by the spacecraft, which was launched aboard a converted-ICBM Rockot vehicle on Feb. 16 from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The first of two planned Sentinel-3 satellites, 3A is currently in a high-inclination orbit at an altitude of 505 miles (814 km).

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Goodnight, Sweet Philae: ESA’s Comet Lander Likely in Permanent Hibernation

On the surface of comet 67P/C-G, Philae lies in sleep mode. (ESA)

Somewhere on the surface of comet 67P/C-G Philae continues to lie in sleep mode. (ESA)

ESA’s Philae lander, the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on the surface of a comet and former piggyback partner to Rosetta, has not been in communication since July of 2015. With 67P now six months past perihelion and heading deeper out into the Solar System and Rosetta’s mission coming to a close this year, it’s not likely that Philae will ever be heard from again.

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Comet 67P Confirmed To Be a Contact Binary

Comet 67P/C-G imaged by NavCam on July 7, 2015 (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Comet 67P/C-G imaged by NavCam on July 7, 2015 (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Ever since we got our first good look at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the approaching Rosetta spacecraft in 2014 it has been considered to be a textbook example of a contact binary, with its “rubber duckie” double-lobed shape consisting of an oval “head” and flat-bottomed “body” joined by a “neck.’ Now, using data gathered by Rosetta’s OSIRIS instrument while in permanent orbit, scientists are certain that this is indeed the case: 67P/C-G as we see it today was created by the slow-speed collision of two separate comets, each once an independent and fully-formed object in its own right (and not, as the alternate hypothesis suggested, via the gradual erosion of a once-larger single object.)

Read more about these findings and how they were determined on ESA’s Rosetta site here.

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