In the year 2004 the European Space Agency launched a space probe to perform a detailed study of a comet orbiting around the sun. Named Rosetta, the probe reached its destination, comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, after ten years in space in order to begin its observations. The probe’s activities set quite a number of records in unmanned space exploration. But now, after two years into it's survey and 12 years total mission time, the end is coming for Rosetta, at the hands of the very people who sent her up no less, in the name of space exploration.
According to National Geographic, at about 10:40 PM GMT of Friday September 30, Rosetta shall be sent by its ESA operators into a final dive and crash-landing onto the comet it had watched since 2014. In doing so they will have the probe transmit a steady stream of data on 67P as it draws near, trying to squeeze out the last few drips of information on the comet as it pertains to its countless other brothers – giant balls of ice streaking across space that are believed to be surviving material preserved un-aging from the beginning of the solar system.
A lion’s share of observations has already been made by Rosetta since two years ago, when it began orbiting around comet 67P – the first probe to do so. It also made another record by making a comet landing – in a sense – when it deployed the Pihlae lander module onto 67P’s surface. It wasn’t without snags though; Philae’s stabilizing harpoons didn’t bite the first time, causing the lander to roll about uncontrollably until it caught on a crevice where it was secured.
The banged-up lander was only able to send limited amounts of data on the planet’s surface – actually quite varied since it briefly moved from one place to another – before it shut down. It was not until earlier this September that Rosetta finally caught sight and took pictures of Philae in its final resting place. The data sampled by the lander and transmitted back to Earth has already uncovered many new things about comets, like how they may have seeded water and perhaps even the building blocks of life on our world long ago.
All good things must come to an end however. Comet 67P has completed its slingshot around the sun and headed into deep space again, with Rosetta already receiving low energy from the sun in its solar panels to keep itself active. Hence the ESA’s decision to have it crash into the comet now, recording more information for scientists to study in its last few moments before being deactivated by impact. It’s a fitting and useful end to Rosetta’s long mission.
Photo Credit to www.spaceflightinsider.com