The Rosetta spacecraft has crashed into a comet, bringing to an end one of the most important space missions in recent history.
Final preparations were made to send the craft into the comet that it has spent months circling, destroying the probe and ending operations on the £1bn mission.
The quest ended at around midday UK time, when the Rosetta craft hit the comet’s surface and Earth lost contact with it. Before then, scientists hoped to get their last pieces of information – some of which might be the most important ever spotted, since Rosetta will be able to get so close to the surface.
Scientists working on the mission have spent recent days preparing to say goodbye to the craft, which they have been designing and steering through the solar system for years.
Tributes included a special box of tissues – ready for those scientists moved to tears by the poignant final stage of the mission – shaped like Rosetta itself.
Final commands were sent to the Rosetta craft, ordering it to begin a descent that saw it land on the rock’s surface. It is now destroyed and will lie on the comet’s surface, alongside the Philae lander, for millions of years as it flies around the sun.
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
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Image of Comet 67P/CG taken by the Philae lander from a distance of approximately 3km from the surface
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Rosetta's lander Philae took this parting shot of its mothership shortly after separation
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Parting shot of the Philae lander after separation, captured by one of Rosetta's cameras
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A technician celebrates after the successful landing of the Philae lander, in the control room at the ESA headquarters in Darmstadt
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Scientists celebrate at a mission observation centre in Toulouse, southern France as they receive information that Philae has landed on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet
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Astronomer Klim Ivanovych Churyumov, who discovered the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 1969, reacts after the successful landing of the Philae lander on the comet
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A model demonstrates how the landing device Philae, of the space probe Rosetta, stands on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the press center of the satellite control center of the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany
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An artist impression of Rosetta's lander Philae on the surface of comet
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Picture taken on October 28 by the navigation camera on Rosetta shows the boulder-strewn neck region of comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It was captured from a distance of 9.7 km from the center of the comet
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Picture taken on October 24 shows a raised plateau on the larger lobe of the comet
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The probe is supposed to fly to a comet and put down a small laboratory on the top of it
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A scientist from the European Space Agency with an airworthy copy of space probe 'Rosetta' in the control center in Darmstadt, Germany
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Maneuvers designed for the actual space probe are simulated with the replica. 'Rosetta' will be woken up from an energy saving hibernation after 957 days
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A European Space Agency employee sits in the control room for the Rosetta mission in Darmstadt, Germany
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Scientists at the European Space Agency are expecting their comet-chasing probe Rosetta to wake from almost three years of hibernation
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Europe's Rosetta probe on a NASA mission
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NASA is participating in the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, whose goal is to observe one such space-bound icy dirt ball from up close for months on end
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An impression of the Philae lander
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ESA probe Rosetta with Mars in the background. The three-tonne probe blasted off aboard an an Ariane V rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in 2004
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Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the spacecraft measures 32 m across including the solar arrays, while the comet nucleus is thought to be about 4 km wide
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The spacecraft, festooned with 25 instruments between its lander and orbiter (including three from NASA), is programmed to 'wake up' from hibernation
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An Ariane V carrying the three-tonne probe Rosetta blasting off from Kourou, beginning a decade-long quest to hunt a comet in the depths of the Solar System and shadow it around the Sun in a bid to tease out secrets of how life began on Earth
Rosetta started its “collision manoeuvre” at 9.50pm UK time on Thursday. From that point, its course was set – there was no turning back for Rosetta on its way down to the rock’s surface.
The spacecraft was due to fly towards the comet and hit the ground at 11.40am UK time on Friday. But it took around 40 minutes for confirmation of that, because of the time it takes for the radio signals to get back to Earth.
The worry for those behind the mission was that there would not be enough time for all of the useful information to be communicated back to Earth before the craft was destroyed.
Scientists decided to crash the craft because the comet is now getting so far away from the sun that the solar panels will not be able to generate enough power to keep it functioning. But by crashing it, they hope to get some last glimpses of the comet – taking what are expected to be stunning images and important data as it heads towards the surface.
The European Space Agency will share those pictures starting on 30 September, through its special picture page and on its social media channels.
Rosetta arrived at its comet – known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – in August 2014, after a 10-year journey. Three months later it dropped a lander called Philae onto the surface, which had been sending back information until scientists lost contact with it – and then found it again, earlier this month.Reuse content