Rosetta’s final images offer first insight

ESA’s Rosetta completed its mission on 30 September, collecting unprecedented images and data right until the moment of contact with the comet’s surface.

Rosetta’s signal disappeared from screens at ESA’s mission control, confirming that the spacecraft had arrived on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and switched off some 40 minutes earlier.

One of the final pieces of information received from Rosetta was a report of a ‘large object’ in the field of view – the comet horizon.

Reconstruction of the final descent showed that the spacecraft gently struck the surface only 33m from the target point.

Numerous images were taken of the neighbouring pit, capturing details of its layered walls that will be used to help decipher the comet’s geological history.

The final image was acquired around 20m above the impact point. In addition, a number of Rosetta’s dust, gas and plasma analysis instruments collected data.

The pressure of the gas outflow from the comet was seen to rise as the surface neared. Scans revealed temperatures between about -190°C and -110°C down to a few centimetres below the surface. The variation was most likely due to shadows and local topography as Rosetta flew across the surface.

ESA’s Rosetta project scientist, Matt Taylor, said: “It’s great to have these first insights from Rosetta’s last set of data.

“Operations have been completed for over two months now, and the instrument teams are very much focused on analysing their huge datasets collected during Rosetta’s two-plus years at the comet.

“Data from this period will eventually be made available in our archives in the same way as all Rosetta data.”