Just before settling to a soft crash landing Friday, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft captured close-range images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, peering into a stadium-sized pit and recording a final dataset to keep scientists busy long after the mission’s end.
The craft’s OSIRIS science camera took images throughout Rosetta’s descent and sent the data back to Earth in real-time.
The final image came from an altitude of 65 feet (20 meters) above the comet, just before ground controllers received the last signal from Rosetta at 1119 GMT (7:19 a.m. EDT).
Holger Sierks, the OSIRIS instrument’s principal investigator, discussed the photos in a presentation Friday at the European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.
Rosetta set down next to an open pit named Deir el-Medina, a feature resembling a sinkhole measuring about 330 feet (100 meters) wide and 165 feet (50 meters) deep. In the final image sequence, the spacecraft turned to look inside the pit, revealing debris strewn across the bottom, material scientists believe fell away from the pit’s frozen walls.
Pits like Deir el-Medina, named for an archaeological site in Egypt, are a likely source for jets of dust and vapor that streamed away from the comet last year.
A command uplinked by mission control to resolve an error in the guidance system on the Israeli Beresheet moon lander inadvertently triggered a chain reaction that led to the shutdown of the probe’s main engine during descent to the lunar surface April 11, officials said this week.
Three robotic Mars missions launched from Earth last month have begun fine-tuning their trajectories through the solar system with the first in a series mid-course corrections to take aim on the Red Planet for arrival next February.
Europe’s LISA Pathfinder mission — a fundamental physics lab launched last year to a point a million miles from Earth — has demonstrated the mind-boggling technology required for a future space-based observatory to listen for faint, low-frequency vibrations emitted by invisible objects in the most distant pockets of the universe, scientists said this week.