Stunning new pictures of the Rosetta spacecraft’s rocky comet ‘grave’ have been revealed just hours before the probe crash-lands.
The grainy black and white images were taken between 20 and 17 km from the centre of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
They show the spacecraft is on track to impact its target in the Ma’at region of the comet, which is littered with boulders and deep active pits known to produce jets of gas and dust.
The £1 billion quest is expected to end with a crunch at around 11.38am UK time on Friday, after scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) set the orbiter on a collision course with the rubber duck-shaped chunk of ice and dust on Thursday evening.
Confirmation of the spacecraft’s death is not expected until later because of the time it takes for radio signals from Rosetta to reach Earth.
It will share its resting place with a tiny lander it dispatched onto the surface nearly two years ago, spelling the end of the daring expedition that began in 2004.
A note signed by the team and left on the main control room door at the European Space Operations Centre said: “Farewell Rosetta! We will miss you.”
Professor Monica Grady, a British scientist involved in the design of the lander, said she had “very mixed feelings” as the end approached.
“It’s been a fantastic mission, but it’s time now to move on to the next one,” she told BBC News.
“It’s been a tremendous achievement by the European Space Agency, it’s been absolutely amazing.”
Mission controllers transmitted the final commands – 249 lines of instructions – to the orbiter at around 5.40am.
Despite travelling at just 1.1mph – walking pace – the craft is not designed for landing and will not survive.
Rosetta will remain crumpled and lifeless on the surface of the comet as the object, a dirty chunk of ice and dust measuring 2.8 miles across, carries it on repeated circuits of the solar system that may continue for millions of years.
The decision to crash the spacecraft was taken because the comet is now heading so far from the Sun that soon its solar panels will not be able to generate enough power to keep it functioning.
In November 2014, the comet was 317 million miles (510 million km) from Earth. Currently Rosetta and the comet are heading out beyond the orbit of Jupiter.
The spacecraft is expected to keep taking photos at a rate of three a minute and collecting data with its instruments until it hits the surface.
Rosetta reached comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on August 6 2014, after a 10-year journey through the solar system.
Three months later, on November 12, the spacecraft deployed a tiny lander, called Philae, which bounced on to the comet surface before coming to rest in a dark crevice.
Philae’s precise location remained unknown until September 2 this year when Rosetta spotted the craft lying crookedly at a site on the comet’s smaller lobe, later named Abydos.
All contact with Philae was lost in July after the ESA switched off Rosetta’s radio link with the lander.
News Source MirrorNews