Rosetta: What did we discover by landing on a comet?

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1. Cosmic collision

On 12 November 2014, the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe went into orbit around Comet 67P and successfully deployed its Philae lander on the surface. Now the team behind this extraordinary feat is planning an even more perilous manoeuvre.

In September 2016, they hope to crash land Rosetta onto the icy rock. It will be Esa’s last chance to gather data from the comet using the spacecraft.

Yet the Rosetta mission has already made several significant discoveries – revealing secrets of the Solar System and transforming our knowledge of these mysterious cosmic bodies.

2. Setting a precedent

Which of these historic ‘firsts’ were achieved during the Rosetta mission?

First craft to study a comet

Was Rosetta the first probe to make observations of a comet in space?

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First craft to study a comet

No

That title belongs to the International Cometary Explorer. Launched in 1978, it passed through the plasma tail of a comet in 1985. [Image: Esa/Rosetta/NAVCAM]

First close orbit of a comet

Was Rosetta the first spacecraft to follow and then orbit a comet?

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First close orbit of a comet

Yes

More than 10 years after it launched, Rosetta reached Comet 67P and became the first spacecraft to orbit a comet. [Image: Esa/Rosetta/NAVCAM]

First to land on a comet

Was Rosetta’s Philae lander the first probe to touchdown on a comet?

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First to land on a comet

Yes

It bounced twice before finally coming to rest. Philae subsequently became the first probe to take images from the surface of a comet. [Image: Esa]

3. CLICKABLE: Four major discoveries

Click on the labels to reveal how Rosetta has already contributed to our understanding of life and the Universe.

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4. Rosetta’s grand finale

As the Comet 67P’s orbit took it away from the Sun, Rosetta received less of the solar energy it needed to function. Before it shut down, Esa had one last chance to collect data.

In September 2016, the scientists deliberately crashed the craft into the comet. In its final moments, Rosetta’s powerful cameras and imaging spectrometers captured a host of high resolution images.

The impact brought to a close what is arguably one of the most successful space exploration missions of all time.