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Rosetta Spacecraft Crashes Into Comet After 2-Year Chase

Image: Rosetta Spacecraft Crashes Into Comet After 2-Year Chase

Artist's illustration of Europe's Rosetta probe ending its mission by touching down on Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30.
(ESA/ATG medialab via Space.com/Twitter)

By    |   Friday, 30 Sep 2016 10:53 AM

The Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a slow-motion crash into it Friday morning.

The spacecraft, launched by the European Space Agency, chased the comet for two years before locking into an orbit around it, giving scientists an opportunity to collect unprecedented data and photos on the object, streaming it back to Earth, National Public Radio reported.

While the crash likely happened at walking speed and would not have destroyed the spacecraft, the landing prevented its antenna from being angled toward Earth, cutting off contact to the European Space Agency permanently, NPR noted.

"Rosetta has entered the history books once again," Johann-Dietrich Wörner, the European Space Agency's director general, said in a statement Friday. "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."

On the way down to its landing at about 6:39 a.m. Eastern time Friday, Rosetta took photos that the ESA shared on social media.

The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko circles the sun in an elliptical orbit traveling almost 500 million miles from the sun at its farthest point – beyond Jupiter's orbit – to a point between the orbits of Earth and Mars some 115 million miles from the sun at its closest point, CBS News noted.

The ESA arrived at the comet in August 2014 and deployed the lander Philae on the comet's surface in November 2014. Rosetta continued to monitor the comet while the object made its closest approach to the Sun.

Philae, though, had limited success, settling in a shadier spot on the comet than planned, and its primary batteries depleted on Nov. 15, 2014, after the lander had accomplished 80 percent of its science mission, Space.com noted.

"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,'" operations manager Sylvain Lodiot, said in the ESA statement.

"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," Lodiot continued.

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The Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a slow-motion crash into it Friday morning.
rosetta, spacecraft, crashes, comet
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2016-53-30
Friday, 30 Sep 2016 10:53 AM
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