Europe’s Rosetta probe has ended its mission to Comet 67P by crash-landing on to the icy surface of the celestial object.
Controllers at the European Space Agency (ESA), which is based on Harwell Science Campus near Didcot, burst into applause when the crunch ending to the £1 billion mission was confirmed at 12.20pm UK time on Friday.
Mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, was able to confirm the impact had occurred when radio contact with the ageing spacecraft was lost abruptly.
The probe was deliberately crashed on the assumption that it would have been damaged beyond use. Rosetta had arrived at 67P in August 2014 following a 10-year-long journey from Earth.
In the time it has lived alongside the mountainous object, it has studied its behaviour, structure and chemistry.
Rosetta dropped a small robot called Philae on to the surface in November 2014 to gather additional information – marking a historic first in the field of space exploration.
The European Space Agency said the mission has been an outstanding success and would transform its understanding of the huge icy dirt-balls that circled planets.
Angus Horner, director at Harwell Campus, said: “Today [Friday] is the culmination of a historic mission, marking the end of 12 years of data collection that will provide us with new insights into physics and astrology.
“We are privileged to have such a direct connection to Rosetta here at Harwell Campus, and it is a real badge of honour that so many of those who carried out this mission are based here.”
In the hours before the planned collision, Rosetta sent back a host of high-resolution pictures and other measurements of the icy dirt-ball.
It took about 116,000 images during its 12-year mission to track the comet.