The spacecraft is on a collision course with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe has been orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for more than two years, but that is all about to come to an end: the ESA is sending the spacecraft on a final, fatal plunge into the comet for one last attempt at gathering scientific data before the agency closes the book on what has been a wildly successful mission.
Rosetta first sent the Philae probe to land on the comet’s surfae back in 2014, and although it bounced and landed in a crevice, preventing its solar batteries from being charged properly, the mission was still a huge success — it gathered tremendous data that will help us understand the origins of our solar system and the universe itself. Now, scientists are looking to squeeze out a little bit more data at the end of the mission by directing Rosetta itself into the comet later this month, according to an ESA statement.
Rosetta will crash into a part of the comet with active pits and dust jets that could tell scientists a lot about the comet. Small structures called “goosebumps” could be signatures of early “cometesimals” when the comet was created billions of years aog, scientists think.
It’s the culmination of a 10-year journey to the distant comet. Rosetta launched in March 2004 and didn’t arrive at Comet 67P until August 2014, but when it did the view of a comet up close was truly spectacular — and totally worth the effort.
“Although we’ve been flying Rosetta around the comet for two years now, keeping it operating safely for the final weeks of the mission in the unpredictable environment of this comet and so far from the Sun and Earth, will be our biggest challenge yet,” says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA’s spacecraft operations manager. “We are already feeling the difference in gravitational pull of the comet as we fly closer and closer: it is increasing the spacecraft’s orbital period, which has to be corrected by small manoeuvres. But this is why we have these flyovers, stepping down in small increments to be robust against these issues when we make the final approach.”