Mission accomplished: Rosetta probe makes historic comet landing

The European Space Agency completed on Friday its Rosetta space probe mission with a historic landing on a comet 720 million kilometres away.

The collision, which occurred at slower than walking pace, marked the 12-year Rosetta project's curtain call, with scientists at mission control watching as the device went silent on impact.

"Mission complete: @ESA_Rosetta's journey ends in daring descent to the comet," ESA announced on its official Twitter page.

Rosetta collided with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after more than 12 years in space, in a final effort to gather pictures and data of the rubber duck-shaped cluster of ice and rock.

Mission controllers in the European Space Operations Centre in the German city of Darmstadt fell silent shortly before touchdown, before breaking into jubilant applause as the mission was confirmed over.

Comets are thought to contain the oldest, largely unchanged, matter from the birth of our solar system some 4.6 billion years ago. The end of the mission will be a time for taking stock, with scientists saying that the unveiled secrets of Churi are of enormous significance.

"The spacecraft may end, but the science will continue," Rosetta project scientist Dr Matt Taylor said, describing the collision as a "sad day" in an interview on ESA's livestream of the event.

Space enthusiasts could follow Rosetta's final day on the mission's official Twitter feed. "#THANKYOU Earth for letting me share this great adventure with you!" one earlier tweet read before contact with the spacecraft was lost.

After the landing, the team began posting the probe's final pictures, with one blurred, black-and-white image showing a close-up of Churi's surface. "From #67P with love: a last image, taken 51 metres before," the tweet read.

A landing on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was not originally planned, but scientists decided to deliberately collide the spacecraft with the comet after orbiting it for 786 days as it had come to the end of its usefel life. The transmitter was programmed to shut down on impact.

ESA engineers estimated that Rosetta would land 1-2 kilometres from its lander Philae, which made history in November 2014 when it became the first man-made probe to land on a comet.

However, it will never be fully clear whether Rosetta bounced on impact and where it ended up, with one scientist comparing the landing to a tree falling in a forest with no one around to here it.

Last update: Fri, 30/09/2016 - 15:07

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