The Rosetta spacecraft made direct contact with Comet 67P on Friday morning, bringing an end to the 14-year mission focused on studying the icy space rock up close as it passed by the sun. Before a soft crash landing that likely destroyed the probe, Europe’s Space Agency (ESA) snapped one last blurry close-up photo of the comet.
— ESA Rosetta Mission (@ESA_Rosetta) September 30, 2016
Rosetta was never designed to land, but as the comet moved further from the sun, the ESA decided it was the best course of action. The spacecraft runs on solar power, and it wouldn’t have worked for much longer. By bringing it in for a collision, the agency was able to get an even closer look at the comet and the pits that cover its surface.
“I can announce full success of this historic descent of Rosetta towards Comet 67P,” said ESA mission manager Patrick Martin (via BBC). “Farewell Rosetta; you’ve done the job. That was space science at its best.”
Over the past two years, Rosetta was able to gather data that will be used for decades. The probe also dropped a smaller robot, named Philae, onto the comet’s surface back in 2014. The robot discovered 16 organic compounds on the comet but became wedged into a crack in the terrain and, ultimately, put to rest as well. Philae was finally spotted by Rosetta earlier this month as the mission came to an end.