Rosetta’s Last Day
Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Rosetta’s Last Day

28/09/2016Written by Tamela Maciel

Friday 30 September marks Rosetta's last day at comet 67P. Find out why and how you can follow Rosetta’s final moments.

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Grand Finale

Grand Finale
Image Credit: ESA

After a breathtaking two years, the Rosetta mission comes to an end on Friday 30 September with a controlled impact on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to be confirmed at 12:20 BST.

Ever since Rosetta’s initial arrival at the comet back in 2014 (surprise, it’s duck shaped!), this European Space Agency mission has been full of the unexpected.

Mission highlights include Philae’s bouncy landing (and subsequent sleep, reawakening, and recent rediscovery), the presence of organic molecules on the surface of comet 67P/C-G that could help explain how Earth got the essential building blocks of life, the surprising abundance of oxygen in the comet’s atmosphere, and the fact that we all got really excited about comets again.

Why End the Mission?

Since 2014 Rosetta and its plucky companion Philae have captivated us with daring feats of comet chasing and landing, and it will be hard to wave farewell.

Sadly though, Rosetta is losing power rapidly as it moves away from the Sun at the rate of 1 million kilometres a day, trailing comet 67P/C-G. Already, Rosetta is more than 560 million kilometres from the Sun and soon its solar panels will no longer be able to create enough power to even operate the spacecraft, let alone do any science.

Before this happens, scientists want to collect the most amount of information about the comet, from as close as possible.

This means flying Rosetta into a controlled impact with the comet’s surface, furiously taking pictures and collecting data to be sent back to Earth before Rosetta’s final impact. Once on the surface, Rosetta will be switched off and she and Philae will continue to travel with the comet to the outer reaches of the Solar System.

Comet Landing

Comet Landing
Image Credit: ESA
Comet Landing
Image Credit: ESA

Rosetta’s final descent will begin on the evening of 29 September, from a height of 19 kilometres above the comet’s surface.

Fourteen hours later, at about 11:40 BST on Friday 30 September, Rosetta will collide with the comet – but we won’t know about it for another 40 minutes due to the time it takes for the signal to travel back to Earth.

Expect impact confirmation at 12:20 BST, plus or minus 20 minutes.

The collision speed won’t be huge – only about walking pace – to allow Rosetta as much time as possible to take close-up pictures and send the data back to Earth.

You can watch Rosetta’s final moments in near-real time by following ESA’s live streaming of the event from 11:30 to 12:40 BST.

Or visit us at the National Space Centre on 30 September for Rosetta Landing Day. We’ll spend the day building comets and watching the live stream of Rosetta’s landing.

For answers to frequently asked questions about Rosetta’s grand finale, see ESA’s dedicated webpage.

Get involved from afar by sending us a photo of you and Rosetta with the hashtags #GoodbyeRosetta and #CometLanding.

 

Farwell Rosetta and Philae! It’s been our privilege to follow such a fantastic journey. Thanks to the European Space Agency for making it possible.