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Comet-Chaser Rosetta to 'Die' This Week, ESA Recounts Its Contributions to Science

Sep 27, 2016 04:03 AM EDT
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The European Space Agency (ESA) launched Rosetta, a comet chaser, to rendezvous with Comet 67P with its Philae lander on board in March 2004. It arrived on a comet in 2014 and since then had transmitted vital data to the Earth-borne base. But Rosetta is about to face its "death" by crashing on comet 67P on Sept. 30 and as its end comes near, ESA recounts Rosetta's contributions to science.

On Friday, Sept. 30, operators of Rosetta will switch it off causing the spacecraft to crash to its death. Equipped with 11 science instruments onboard, Rosetta completed a "12-year odyssey" focused on photographing a comet from all angles possible.

The $1.5 billion spacecraft will lose its signal on Sept. 30 and then crash on the comet 14 hours later. "It will basically all just disappear in one go, and that'll be it. There will be nothing else," ESA senior science advisor Mark McCaughrean said in a statement.

Rosetta helped launched the Philae lander, which after a few months of operations lost contact with the control based on Earth. Surprisingly, a month before Rosetta's death, it managed to find the missing lander in one of the hidden crevices of comet 67P also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Comets are considered important in the understanding of the universe since they are believed to be remnants of the formation of the Solar System about 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta paved the way to understanding and observing comets and performed experiments that have never been done before.

"Nobody had any idea comets can be so weird until Rosetta got there," Fabio Favata of ESA's robotic exploration directorate said in a statement.

During its mission, Rosetta found out that comet 67P have rare attributes such as a body, a head and visible crack on its neck. Some speculated that these marks are results from "low-velocity" impacts billions of years ago. This leads to the theory that the comet formed in younger parts just outside the Solar System. If not, the comet wouldn't have survived the pounding from other bodies, according to ESA.

It has changed man's view of planetary formation. Rosetta also discovered signs that can prove comets are indeed part of the ancient Solar System like the oxygen molecules on the halo surrounding the comet that remains a mystery up until today.

And although Rosetta did not positively confirm that comets helped sparked life on Earth, it might as well do so because some of its findings include the fact the comet might have delivered organic materials like molten iron when impacts occur on young planets.

But ESA experts assured the public that Rosetta's mission and the data it will leave behind will not be taken for granted. Experts said it might take them decades to properly analyze all the data gathered by the spacecraft and might potentially give light to new and interesting discoveries long after it died.

 

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