DARMSTADT, Germany – For the last two years, the Rosetta spacecraft has danced around a comet. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe ended its historic mission with a controlled descent to the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko early this morning. NASA’s Stardust mission even captured dust from the cloud around Comet Wild 2 and returned the sample to Earth in 2006.
The Rosetta spacecraft launched in March 2004, and after a 10-year cruise through the inner solar system covering a distance of 4 billion miles, it rendezvoused with Comet 67P in August 2014.
Right now the comet is heading back out toward the orbit of Jupiter, and Rosetta, which is solar-powered, wouldn’t have enough energy to keep up, so the mission had to come to an end.
“We got pretty close to the comet recently with the orbits we were doing,” Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist with ESA, told Space.com.
The mission has already produced a number of surprising discoveries – that the Comet 67P has big grains of water ice on its surface, molecular oxygen in its coma, diverse landscapes and a fluffy core, just to name a few.