In a last parting wave, the Rosetta spacecraft has transmitted some final pictures of the comet it had been circling for the past two years. The spacecraft has now landed upon the the asteroid — and will probably remain there for the rest of the foreseeable future.
In case the name is unfamiliar to you, Rosetta was a space probe that was built by the European Space Agency and launched on 2nd of March 2004. The satellite was aimed at — and successfully managed to — performed a detailed study of the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The satellite spent the better part of its lifespan journeying to the comet — although it did keep transmitting some very useful pictures and data — and it was over 10 years after its launch that it finally reached the Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6th of August 2014.
Churyumov–Gerasimenko is one of the more interesting asteroids to be explored in such depth by our race. It is actually a Jupiter-family comet and has a current orbital period of 6.45 years. Like most large heavenly bodies, it also keeps on rotating on its axis and has a rotation period of around 12.4 hours. The comet has a maximum velocity of 135,000 km/h.
The comet has made a lot of firsts in its decade long journey.
Rosetta is the first spacecraft to orbit a comet nucleus, and is the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner Solar System. It is planned to be the first spacecraft to examine at close proximity how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the Sun. Shortly after its arrival at 67P, the Rosetta orbiter dispatched the Philae lander for the first controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus.
Well, with an end to its career fast approaching, as the comet hurtled away from the Sun, it was decided to end the mission by landing Rosetta on it. While the spacecraft was not designed and wasn’t suitably equipped for such a purpose, it was thought that by a series of suitable maneuvers, it could be landed on the comet — transmitting some last images in the process.
So it did and thanks to the spacecraft, we now have some fantastic images of the comet and its surface to complement all the data it transmitted over it 12 year long lifetime.
Speaking on the topic, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA’s Director General 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.
Mission manager Patrick Martin said,
With the decision to take Rosetta down to the comet’s surface, we boosted the scientific return of the mission through this last, once-in-a-lifetime operation.
Meanwhile, the long-term monitoring data that has been obtained courtesy the satellite have also put down phenomenon such as the moving dust across its surface and its changing seasons down to its strange shape — which may actually be due to the fact that the comet was formed thanks to a collision between two other comets.
We also discovered a lot about the gases streaming from the comet’s nucleus, which include molecular oxygen and nitrogen, and water that — very interestingly — is different from that on the earth. So you see, that is taking different flavors of water to a whole new level.
Meanwhile, its adieu to Rosetta. While you may be gone beyond recall, know that we as a race will always remember you. The data the spacecraft transmitted will be studied for years to come and we can expect it to enhance our knowledge about the universe’s beginnings and how life began on our planet.
You can know more about the topic and catch more images by clicking this link.