After twelve years traveling through the cosmos, the Rosetta spacecraft’s mission came to an end after it crashed into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta followed Churyumov-Gerasimenko for more than a decade and six billion kilometers, giving scientists incredible insight into the beginnings of the solar system and the universe we live in along the way.
In honor of the spacecraft’s now completed mission, we’re going to take a look at the history of Rosetta, and what made it so important.
A Mission of Firsts
From the beginning, the Rosetta mission was an ambitious one. It was no coincidence that the spacecraft was named after the Rosetta Stone, the tablet that was able to allow researchers to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs upon its discovery. Rosetta’s mission was, like that stone tablet, to unlock long-held mysteries and provide knew knowledge for scientists to base the future of their discipline on. In this case, those mysteries were the origins of the solar system, and Rosetta would help solve them by studying the building blocks of stellar bodies themselves: comets.
The Rosetta mission included a number of scientific firsts, including being the first mission that successfully put a spacecraft into orbit around a comet, and the first mission to land a probe on a comet’s surface. Though Rosetta’s probe, Philae, was not able to report any data after it bounced into a cliff wall upon landing, the fact that the mission was able to get a probe to touch down on a moving comet is an impressive step forward for space exploration.
The End of the Line
Rosetta has been subject to harsh conditions since the beginning of its mission, such as heavy radiation and extreme temperatures. After twelve years of enduring these conditions, it was believed that the spacecraft would not last much longer. Once the comet 67P began to move to the outer solar system, which would take it beyond the solar-powered Rosetta’s range, the scientists leading the project decided that the spacecraft’s mission had come to an end.
Even in its last moments, the Rosetta spacecraft provided its scientist handlers with potentially invaluable information. As the spacecraft proceeded toward the surface of the comet, where it would reach its final resting place, Rosetta’s cameras and instruments recorded and transmitted video and readings on 67P’s side walls and caverns. It is hoped that this data will help scientists back on Earth discover more about how comets are formed, and how they behave when exposed to different interstellar conditions.
According to Daniel Brown, a Nottingham Trent University astronomy expert, the data collected by the Rosetta mission were “as powerful as Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon,”1 and that data collected by Rosetta and Philae have already led to a better understanding about how planets are formed, and the roll comets play in the creation of stellar bodies.
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