Journey’s End: Comet Crash for Rosetta Mission Finale

Comet from 5.7 km. Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera captured this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 08:21 GMT during the spacecraft’s final descent on September 30, 2016. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

With a soft “awwww” from the mission team in the control center in Darmstadt, Germany, the signal from the Rosetta spacecraft faded, indicating the end of its journey. Rosetta made a controlled impact onto Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, sending back incredible close-up images during descent, after two years of investigations at the comet.

“Farewell Rosetta. You have done the job. That was space science at its best,” said Patrick Martin, Rosetta mission manager.

Rosetta’s final resting spot appears to be in a region of active pits in the Ma’at region on the two-lobed, duck-shaped comet.

From #67P with love: a last image, taken 51 metres before #CometLanding #MissionComplete https://t.co/yiSnxDrnba pic.twitter.com/MNuz622tNJ

— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 30, 2016

The information collected during the descent – as well as during the entire mission – will be studied for years. So even though the video below about the mission’s end will likely bring a tear to your eye, rest assured the mission will continue as the science from Rosetta is just getting started.

“Rosetta has entered the history books once again,” says Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA’s Director General. “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.”

Launched in 2004, Rosetta traveled nearly 8 billion kilometers and its journey included three Earth flybys and one at Mars, and two asteroid encounters. It arrived at the comet in August 2014 after being in hibernation for 31 months.

After becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, it deployed the Philae lander in November 2014. Philae sent back data for a few days before succumbing to a power loss after it unfortunately landed in a crevice and its solar panels couldn’t receive sunlight. But Rosetta continued to monitor the comet’s evolution as it made its closest approach and then moved away from the Sun. However, now Rosetta and the comet are too far away from the Sun for the spacecraft to receive enough power to continue operations.

“We’ve operated in the harsh environment of the comet for 786 days, made a number of dramatic flybys close to its surface, survived several unexpected outbursts from the comet, and recovered from two spacecraft ‘safe modes’,” said operations manager Sylvain Lodiot. “The operations in this final phase have challenged us more than ever before, but it’s a fitting end to Rosetta’s incredible adventure to follow its lander down to the comet.”

Rosetta’s Legacy and Discoveries

Of its many discoveries, Rosetta’s close-up views of the curiously-shaped Comet 67P have already changed some long-held ideas about comets. With the discovery water with a different ‘flavor’ to that of Earth’s oceans, it appears that Earth impacts of comets like 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko may not have delivered as much of Earth’s water as previously thought.

From Philae, it was determined that even though organic molecules exist on the comet, they might not be the kind that can deliver the chemical prerequisites for life. However, a later study revealed that complex organic molecules exist in the dust surrounding the comet, such as the amino acid glycine, which is commonly found in proteins, and phosphorus, a key component of DNA and cell membranes. This reinforces the idea that the basic building blocks may have been delivered to Earth from an early bombardment of comets.

Rosetta’s long-term monitoring has also shown just how important the comet’s shape is in influencing its seasons, in moving dust across its surface, and in explaining the variations measured in the density and composition of the comet’s coma.

And because of Rosetta’s proximity to the comet, we all went along for the ride as the spacecraft captured views of watching what happens as a comet comes close to the Sun, with ice sublimating and dusty jets exploding from the surface.

Studies of the comet show it formed in a very cold region of the protoplanetary nebula when the Solar System was forming more than 4.5 billion years ago. The comet’s two lobes likely formed independently, but came together later in a low-speed collision.

“Just as the Rosetta Stone after which this mission was named was pivotal in understanding ancient language and history, the vast treasure trove of Rosetta spacecraft data is changing our view on how comets and the Solar System formed,” said project scientist Matt Taylor.

Journey’s End

During the final hours of the mission on Friday morning, the instrument teams watched the data stream in and followed the spacecraft as it moved closer to its targeted touchdown location on the “head” of the 4km-wide comet. The pitted region where Rosetta landed appear to be the places where 67P ejects gas and dust into space, and so Rosetta’s swan song will provide more insight into the comet’s icy jets.

“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,” said Martin. ““It’s a bittersweet ending, but … Rosetta’s destiny was set a long time ago. But its superb achievements will now remain for posterity and be used by the next generation of young scientists and engineers around the world.”

See more stunning, final images in Bob King’s compilation article, and we bid Rosetta farewell with this lovely poem written by astropoet Stuart Atkinson (used here by permission).

Rosetta’s Last Letter Home

By Stuart Atkinson

And so, my final day dawns.
Just a few grains are left to drain through
The hourglass of my life.
The Comet is a hole in the sky.
Rolling, turning, a black void churning
Silently beneath me.
Down there, waiting for me, Philae sleeps,
Its bed a cold cave floor,
A quilt of sparkling hoarfrost
Pulled over its head…

I have so little time left;
I sense Death flying behind me,
I feel his breath on my back as I look down
At Ma’at, its pits as black as tar,
A skulls’s empty eye sockets staring back
At me, daring me to leave the safety
Of this dusty sky and fly down to join them,
Never to spread my wings again; never
To soar over The Comet’s tortured pinnacles and peaks,
Or play hide and seek in its jets and plumes…

I don’t want to go.
I don’t want to be buried beneath that filthy snow.
This is wrong! I want to fly on!
There is so much more for me to see,
So much more to do –
But the end is coming soon.
All I ask of you is this: don’t let me crash.
Help me land softly, kissing the ground,
Coming to rest with barely a sound
Like a leaf falling from a tree.
Don’t let me die cartwheeling across the plain,
Wings snapping, cameras shattering,
Pieces of me scattering like shrapnel
Across the ice. Let me end my mayfly life
In peace, whole, not as debris rolling uncontrollably
Into Deir el-Medina…

It’s time to go, I know.
Only hours remain until I join Philae
And my great adventure ends
So I’ll send this and say goodbye.
If I dream, I’ll dream of Earth
Turning beneath me, bathing me in
Fifty shades of blue…
In years to come I hope you’ll think of me
And smile, remembering how, for just a while,
We explored a wonderland of ice and dust
Together, hand in hand.

(c) Stuart Atkinson 2016

The post Journey’s End: Comet Crash for Rosetta Mission Finale appeared first on Universe Today.

Carnival of Space #468-469

Carnival of Space. Image by Jason Major.

Welcome, come in to the 468th and 469th Carnival of Space – we combined these two since it’s summer break for a lot of folks!  The Carnival is a community of space science and astronomy writers and bloggers, who submit their best work each week for your benefit. I’m Susie Murph, part of the team at Universe Today and CosmoQuest. So now, on to this week’s stories!

First up, we visit our friends at Planetaria to learn about how the Solar Probe Plus mission is moving closer to ‘touching the Sun’ in 2024.

Our next stop is the Chandra X-Ray Observatory site, where they have a fascinating article about how we’re discovering more about the magnetic dynamo inside our own sun by studying other stars. Read The Secrets of the Sun Revealed in the Stars here!

Next up, Kimberly Arcand over at ArkandWatske.com recently gave a TED talk – here’s the video – “How Do You Hold a Dead Star in Your Hand?”

Our friends over at Next Big Future have a story about ROSA, the Roll Up Solar Array, which will be sent up to the ISS for deployment in the spring of 2017.

Out next stop is at the Venus Transit, where Gadi Eidelheit has a great explanation of how to remove light pollution from your phots with “Blur and Subtract”, with links to tutorials.

Then, Gadi tell us the details about how he finally capture the ISS over the moon. You can read that article and see his video here.

We visit Space.About.Com next, for a collection of things we’ve learned about Pluto so far from the New Horizons mission. You can read this article by Carolyn Collins Peterson here: Pluto: What the First Reconnaissance Taught Us.

Next, they give us the details on how we can take a Space-themed vacation by giving us five great locations for space fans to visit.

Universe Today has lovely good bye to the Philae lander, by Nancy Atkinson. Read here about how the little lander from the Rosetta spacecraft, which sitting in a shaded region on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, will lose communication, and what we’ve learned from this historic mission.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival of Space! We’ll have more great stories next week, hosted by The Urban Astronomer!

And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to all the past Carnivals of Space. If you’ve got a space-related blog, you should really join the carnival. Just email an entry to carnivalofspace@gmail.com, and the next host will link to it. It will help get awareness out there about your writing, help you meet others in the space community – and community is what blogging is all about. And if you really want to help out, sign up to be a host. Send an email to the above address.

The post Carnival of Space #468-469 appeared first on Universe Today.

Rosetta Orbiter Approved for Extended Mission and Bold Comet Landing

Europe’s history making Rosetta cometary spacecraft has been granted a nine month mission extension to plus up its bountiful science discoveries as well as been given the chance to accomplish one final and daring historic challenge, as engineers attempt to boldly go and land the probe on the undulating surface of the comet its currently […]

Rosetta Discovery of Surprise Molecular Breakup Mechanism in Comet Coma Alters Perceptions

A NASA science instrument flying aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft has made a very surprising discovery – namely that the molecular breakup mechanism of “water and carbon dioxide molecules spewing from the comet’s surface” into the atmosphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is caused by “electrons close to the surface.” The surprising results relating […]

Weekly Space Hangout – May 29, 2015: Dr. Bradley M. Peterson

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: This week we welcome Dr. Bradley M. Peterson, whose research is directed towards determination of the physical nature of active galactic nuclei. Guests: Jolene Creighton (@jolene723 / fromquarkstoquasars.com) Charles Black (@charlesblack / sen.com/charles-black) Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein / briankoberlein.com) Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com) Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg ) […]

Weekly Space Hangout – April 17, 2015: Amy Shira Teitel and “Breaking the Chains of Gravity”

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Amy Shira Teitel (@astVintageSpace)discussing space history and her new book Breaking the Chains of Gravity Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg ) (…)Read the rest of Weekly Space Hangout – April 17, 2015: Amy Shira Teitel and “Breaking the Chains of Gravity” (454 words) © Fraser for Universe Today, […]

Weekly Space Hangout – Nov. 14, 2014: Holy Rosetta! We Landed on a Comet!

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Guests: Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @cosmic_chatter) Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein) Nicole Gugliucci (cosmoquest.org / @noisyastronomer) (…)Read the rest of Weekly Space Hangout – Nov. 14, 2014: Holy Rosetta! We Landed on a Comet! (210 words) © Fraser for Universe Today, 2014. | Permalink | No comment | Post tags: ALMA, Black Holes, […]

Glorious Global 3-D Mars from ISRO’s MOM and ESA’s Rosetta

Here’s another breathtakingly glorious view from India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – her first global 3-D portrait of her new home careening around the Red Planet. MOM is India’s first deep space voyager to explore beyond the confines of her home planet’s influence and just successfully arrived at the Red Planet after the “history creating” […]

Comet’s Head Selected as Landing Site for Rosetta’s Historic Philae Lander

The ‘head’ of the bizarre comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been selected as the primary landing site for the Rosetta spacecraft’s attached Philae lander, attempting mankind’s first ever landing on a comet in mid-November. Scientists leading the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission announced the primary landing site at a media briefing today, Sept. 15, at ESA headquarters.(…)Read […]

Rosetta Captures Breathtaking Comet Views Advancing Landing Site Selection

The Rosetta spacecraft is capturing ever more breathtaking views of its target comet that are significantly advancing landing site selection for the history making touchdown on the bizarre worlds nucleus by the attached Philae lander. Today ESA released the latest high resolution images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the OSIRIS science camera on Sept. 5, […]