Mission to a comet ends with bittersweet bang

Rosetta cartoon
The Rosetta probe inspired a series of kid-friendly cartoons. (Credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe today descended to a mission-ending impact on the comet that it followed for more than two years.

The car-sized probe continued to transmit data as it dove toward the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 446 million miles from Earth. When the data stream flatlined, scientists and engineers at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, knew it was all over.

The end was greeted at 1:19 p.m. CEST (4:19 a.m. PT) with a prolonged “Ohhh,” followed by applause and hugs.

“This is it,” said Rosetta mission manager Patrick Martin. “I can announce the full success of this historic descent of Rosetta toward 67P, and I declare hereby the mission operations ended for Rosetta. … Farewell, Rosetta. You’ve done the job.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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