- Title: Comet crash-landing set to provide Rosetta scientists with "goldmine" of data
- Date: 29th September 2016
- Summary: PHOTOGRAPH OF COMET SURFACE
- Embargoed: 14th October 2016 12:16
- Keywords: Rosetta comet crash-landing European Space Agency mission
- Location: DARMSTADT, GERMANY & UNKNOWN
- City: DARMSTADT, GERMANY & UNKNOWN
- Country: Germany
- Topics: Science,Space Exploration
- Reuters ID: LVA00451MCCHZ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:After 12 years chasing a comet across more than 6 billion km of space, European scientists will end the historic Rosetta mission by crash landing the spacecraft on the surface of the dusty, icy body on Friday (September 30).
Rosetta began circling comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014. Two years later, the comet's distance from the sun is nearing the point where solar power becomes too weak to operate the spacecraft and download data from its computers.
Data collected by Rosetta, which has captured the public's imagination thanks in part to the European Space Agency's cartoon depictions of it and lander Philae, is helping scientists better understand how the Earth and other planets formed.
ESA project manager Matt Taylor said even the crash-landing itself was carefully planned so that scientists could glean as much knowledge from it as possible.
"The reason we're landing in that region - the Ma'at region - is that it has these pits, these 100m-sized cavities in the surface of the comet, which are fundamental in understanding the activity of the comet. But also, we can peek in the side walls of these regions to see the building blocks of the comet itself. So it's a fantastic goldmine of data that we will get in the next days," he told Reuters on Thursday (September 29) at the European Space Operations Centre, the ESA's main mission control centre in Darmstadt.
The spacecraft has managed several historic firsts, including the first time a spacecraft has orbited a comet rather than just whizzing past to snap some fly-by pictures, and the first time a probe has landed on a comet's surface.
It successfully sent its 100 kg (220 lb) washing-machine sized lander down to the surface in November 2014 in what was considered a remarkable feat of precision space travel, even if the lander ended up bouncing and coming to rest in the shade where it could not be recharged.
It was also the first mission to venture beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power.
Rosetta has detected key organic compounds in the comet, bolstering the notion that comets delivered the chemical building blocks for life long ago to Earth and throughout the solar system.
"We think that actually comets weren't a major delivery mechanism to the Earth of water - that's what we've found with Rosetta - but it doesn't discount the fact that the comet, which is covered in organics, also amino acid like glycine, that they could have been delivered to the Earth from comets. And therefore comets are linked to perhaps providing the source or the ingredients of life on Earth," Taylor said.
The treasure trove of data Rosetta has collected will keep scientists busy for years to come. Taylor hopes budding young scientists will be inspired to become researchers and work on the Rosetta data in the future.
"We have decades of work to do to really understand everything we can about this comet," he said.
In the final hours of its controlled descent on Friday, Rosetta will be able to take close-up pictures of the comet and collect data on gases closer to the surface before joining Philae and shutting down forever.
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