Rosetta’s comet rest­ing place

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

BER­LIN: The Rosetta space­craft ended its his­toric mis­sion yes­ter­day, crash­ing on the sur­face of the dusty, icy comet it spent 12 years chasing in a hunt that pro­vided in­sight into the early days of the so­lar sys­tem and cap­tured the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion.

The space­craft stalked comet 67P/ Churyu­movGerasi­menko across more than 6 bil­lion km of space, col­lect­ing a trea­sure-trove of in­for­ma­tion on comets that will keep sci­en­tists busy for the next decade.

Sci­en­tists in the Euro­pean Space Agency con­trol cen­tre in Darmstadt, Ger­many, clapped and hugged as con­fir­ma­tion of the end of the mis­sion came.

Rosetta com­pleted its freefall de­scent at the speed of a se­date walk, join­ing the probe Phi­lae, which landed on the comet in Novem­ber 2014 in what was con­sid­ered a re­mark­able feat of pre­ci­sion space travel.

“It was a good end­ing,” said Klaus Schiling, who worked on mis­sion plan­ning for Rosetta 27 years ago with prime con­trac­tor Air­bus. “There were so many ups and downs with this mis­sion.”

The mis­sion man­aged sev­eral his­toric firsts, such as get­ting a space­craft into or­bit around a comet and the un­prece­dented land­ing of a probe on the sur­face. A hand­ful of pre­vi­ous space­craft had snapped pictures and col­lected data as they flew past their tar­gets.

Rosetta had been sub­jected to the harsh ra­di­a­tion and ex­treme tem­per­a­tures since launch­ing in March 2004 and was un­likely to last much longer.

Be­fore reach­ing the sur­face and shut­ting down, Rosetta’s in­stru­ments and cam­era re­layed back data and images, giv­ing sci­en­tists in­sight into the struc­ture of the comet.

That data will re­veal in­for­ma­tion on the side walls of the comet, cru­cial to un­der­stand­ing how they are formed, as well as on large 100m-wide pits, which sci­en­tists be­lieve are key to how the comet re­leases gas and dust as it is warmed by the sun.

Sci­en­tists now be­lieve as­ter­oids, not comets, were pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for de­liv­er­ing wa­ter to Earth and other plan­ets in the in­ner so­lar sys­tem, pos­si­bly set­ting the stage for life. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

An artist’s im­pres­sion of the Rosetta space­craft .

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