Monday, October 3, 2016
On Friday, European Space Agency’s (ESA) spacecraft Rosetta ended its mission, crashing into Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet; it traveled in space for twelve years and about eight billion kilometres (about five billion miles).
The ESA’s Darmstadt, Germany control centre ceased to receive signals from the spacecraft, confirming the Rosetta mission’s end, at 11:19 UTC. Mission controllers said it was traveling about 90 centimeters per second on impact (two miles per hour), about a walking pace.
Almost two years ago, in November 2014, Rosetta successfully landed a probe called Philae onto 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, with amongst its goals better understanding how the Solar System was formed. Philae’s discoveries included the presence of molecular oxygen and nitrogen on the comet. It also discovered water on the comet which, according to the scientists, had a different distribution of hydrogen isotopes from the water on earth.
The spacecraft studied the gas, dust, and plasma immediately surrounding the comet during its final approach.
ESA’s director general Johann-Dietrich Wörner said, “Rosetta has entered the history books once again[…] Today we celebrate the success of a game-changing mission, one that has surpassed all our dreams and expectations, and one that continues ESA’s legacy of ‘firsts’ at comets.”