After two years orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta’s mission is entering its final two days. Rosetta will begin its descent to the comet’s surface this afternoon. At around 5:00 pm ET, the spacecraft will execute a “collision maneuver” at about 19 kilometers away from Comet 67P. This course will bring the spacecraft to a slow, but destructive impact with the comet at around 6:40 am ET on Friday.
The impact zone was finalized earlier this month. Rosetta will aim for the Ma’at region on the smaller of the two comet lobes. Why here? Ma’at is home to several active pits more than 100 meters in diameter and 50-60 meters in depth. It’s where many of the comet’s dust jets originate.
But it’s what lies on the walls of these pits that scientists hope to get a better look at. Small, lumpy structures called ‘goosebumps’ (hey, space agencies don’t have original names for everything). Scientists believe these ‘goosebumps’ could be the evidence of early ‘cometesimals” that bunched together to create Comet 67P as it flew around during the solar system’s younger years.
Rosetta is aiming for a point just adjacent to a 130-meter wide pit the team has named Deir el-Medina.
The exact instruments and data collected during Rosetta’s final approach are still being finalized. The Rosetta team has to wait for the exact final trajectory and the data rate available during its last day. We should get fantastic up-close images, though. How could you pass up that opportunity? Science is awesome, but I want a collection of stunning images.
Rosetta’s impact is expected to take place within a 20-minute window of 6:40 am ET on Friday. We won’t have official confirmation of the impact for another 40 minutes due to the vast distances separating Rosetta and Earth. Officials will watch as the spacecraft’s signal flatlines.
Rosetta’s camera: by the numbers
Rosetta’s OSIRIS instrument was busy during its trip to and around Comet 67P. Armed with two cameras and an Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System – OSIRIS captured 98,219 images during its entire mission. It will look to add a few more today and tomorrow. More than 76,000 of these images were taken at the comet.
Images of Rosetta’s descent will be shared starting from the early morning of September 30th onwards. I’ll keep you posted as they are released.
Rosetta’s mission will end tomorrow, but its presence will be felt for years to come. The data collected by Rosetta will be the backbone of countless research papers and studies for the next decade or longer.
“This pioneering mission may be coming to an end, but it has certainly left its mark in the technical, scientific and public spheres as being one of outstanding success, with incredible achievements contributing to the current and future understanding of our Solar System,” said Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.