450,000,000 miles from Earth, Rosetta sends final signal from Comet67P

Friday 9/30/16 at 7:19 am

A little over one hour ago, at 11:19 UTC (7:19 EDT), Rosetta sent its last signal to the European Space Agency’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, after colliding with Comet 67P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko). This was a well-orchestrated “crash” landing, bringing Rosetta’s 12-year mission to an end. The comet is about 720 million kilometers (450 million miles) from Earth.

Scientists knew the expected time of impact per the crash instructions sent to Rosetta from the control center yesterday. Based on the instructed time for Rosetta to begin its descent, the altitude of Rosetta above the comet, and its rate of descent, scientists were able to calculate the precise minute that Rosetta’s final signal would be received at the ESA control center. At approximately 450,000,000 miles, it would take about 40 minutes for Rosetta’s final transmission to reach Earth.

Comet 67P captured by Rosetta's narrow-angle camera on 8/3/14

Comet 67P captured by Rosetta’s narrow-angle camera on 8/3/14

Yesterday, the ESA announced that they would broadcast the final transmissions live online, with the final signal expected at 11:19 UTC; it was received at 11:19:19s. I’m always amazed by our scientific achievements, especially the predictability of physical events through complex mathematics — this includes our own atmosphere, which was virtually unpredictable just 70 years ago, before the advent of the first computer and subsequent numerical prediction models (learn more about the history of weather prediction).

During its 12-year mission tracking Comet 67P, Rosetta sent more than 115,000 images back to Earth, and an enormous amount of data that I can’t even begin to quantify.

The following video is from the final ESA broadcast. The video is about an hour long, with some history of the mission, culminating with the final signal from Rosetta received in the ESA control center beginning at the 50:50 mark.

Quick Facts about Rosetta’s Mission to Comet-67P

Mission Objectives

  • Observe at close range how the comet is transformed by the sun’s energy (heat) on its elliptical orbit.
  • Land a probe on the surface for complex data analyses.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Rosetta got its name from the infamous Rosetta Stone that was used to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics almost 200 years ago.
  • It was the first spacecraft to fly close to Jupiter’s orbit using only solar cells as its main power source.
  • Was the first spacecraft to ever orbit a comet and land on its surface.
  • Rosetta launched on March 2nd, 2004.
  • Rosetta sent back to Earth over 115,000 images during its 12-year mission.

Full 1-Hour Version

Just the Final Moments & Celebration