Friday 30 September 2016 was a bitter-sweet day for space exploration: the incredible Rosetta spacecraft reached the end of its hugely successful mission, fittingly, by touching down on the surface of the comet it had been studying from orbit for the previous two years.
This image was captured by the spacecraft’s wide-angle OSIRIS camera during the final hour of the mission from an altitude of about 400 m above the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its final resting place is not far from the top centre of the image; see also this breathtaking sequence of images covering the final hours of the mission.
Rosetta arrived at the comet on 6 August 2014 after a ten year journey through space, and deployed lander Philae to its surface on 12 November 2014. Rosetta continued to study the icy, dusty object from near and far as the comet reached its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015 and moved towards the outer Solar System again.
Conducting science until the very end, the descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to collect unique data on the comet’s gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images and temperature measurements.
While the mission operations have concluded, the science certainly continues. Intense activities also surround the preservation of Rosetta’s highest resolution and best calibrated data in ESA’s Planetary Science Archive, securing the mission’s legacy for future generations.
Last week marked another milestone as the final Science Working Team meeting was held at ESA’s technical facility in the Netherlands. It was the 52nd of such meetings, the first having been held in the late 1990s. The meeting closed out the formal aspect of the mission and archiving activities and enabled teams to reflect on their efforts over the last decades. In addition, several days were dedicated to the latest and ongoing science activities, which are delving deep into the cross-instrument analysis of the comet. A number of the topics discussed are also presented in a recently published special edition of Astronomy and Astrophysics.