Rosetta took us where we had never been before – right next to a comet – and provided us with greater understanding of not only our solar system with various cosmic phenomena in general and after 12 years of chasing the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the spacecraft finally breathed its last when it crash landed on the comet.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is a proud space agency after its creation – Rosetta – achieved unprecedented success in its 12-year mission that saw the comet chaser fly for more than 6 billion km (3.7 billion miles) all the while sending us images, scientific data and other several observations to help us better understand a range of things about comets and solar system in general. The data that Rosetta sent us ever since it reach the comet in 2014 will enable scientists to continue their research on comets for at least a decade to come.
Scientists at the European Space Agency control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, clapped and hugged as confirmation of the end of the mission. Rosetta completed its free-fall descent at the speed of a sedate walk, joining the probe Philae, which landed on the comet in November 2014 in what was considered a remarkable feat of precision space travel.
Rosetta has to its credit a number of firsts including the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, the first spacecraft to have a robot land on a comet, first to collect data about comets right from its coma among other things. While there have been many successes, there have been issues as well and the greatest failure was the inability of the Philae lander to land as planned and perform the scientific observations on the the surface of the comet itself which could have provided us a wealth of information.
The ESA decided to pull the plug on the Rosetta mission because the 67P comet is racing toward the outer solar system and this puts the solar-powered spacecraft out of range of enough solar energy to keep its batteries charged. Further the spacecraft has been subject to the harsh radiation and extreme temperatures of space since launching in March 2004 and so was unlikely to last too much longer.
Before reaching the surface and shutting down, Rosetta’s instruments and camera relayed back data and images, giving scientists insight into the structure of the comet.
That data will reveal information on the side walls of the comet, crucial to understanding how they are formed, plus on large 100-metre (300 foot) wide pits, which scientists believe are key to how the comet releases gas and dust as it is warmed by the sun.
Daniel Brown, an astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University, said the images sent back from the Rosetta mission were “as powerful as Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon”.
Data collected by Rosetta and Philae is already helping scientists better understand how the Earth and other planets formed. For example, scientists now believe that asteroids, not comets were primarily responsible for delivering water to Earth and other planets in the inner solar system, possibly setting the stage for life.
“We’ve just scratched the surface of the science. We’re ending the mission, but the science will continue for many years,” project scientist Matt Taylor said ahead of the end of mission.