CometImage copyright Esa
Image caption Rosetta took this picture when it was just 1.2km from the surface

Europe’s Rosetta probe has ended its mission to Comet 67P by crash-landing on to the icy object’s surface.

Mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, was able to confirm the impact had occurred when radio contact to the ageing spacecraft was lost abruptly.

The assumption is that the probe would have been damaged beyond use.

In the hours before the planned collision, Rosetta sent back a host of high-resolution pictures and other measurements of the icy dirt-ball.

Scientists expect all the data gathered at 67P in the past two years to keep them busy for decades to come.

The loss of signal, when it happened, was greeted by muted cheers and handshakes – not too surprising given the bittersweet nature of the occasion.

Some of the scientists watching on here in Darmstadt have spent the better part of 30 years on this project.

Throughout Friday morning they had followed every twist and turn as the probe acquired its final observations and aimed for a touchdown spot on the head of the 4km-wide, duck-shaped comet.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is currently heading away from the sun, limiting the solar energy available to Rosetta to operate its systems.

Rather than put the probe into hibernation or simply let it slowly fade into inactivity, the mission team determined that the venture should try to go out in style.

European Space Agency project scientist Matt Taylor said that even if Rosetta was put to sleep with the intention of waking it up again when 67P next visited the inner Solar System – there was no guarantee it would work properly.

“It’s like one of those 60s rock bands; we don’t want to have a rubbish comeback tour. We’d rather go out now in true rock’n’roll style,” he said.

Rosetta arrived at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – to give the comet its full name – in August 2014, after a 10-year journey from Earth.

In the time it has lived alongside the mountainous object, it has unlocked the secrets about its behaviour, its structure and chemistry.

Rosetta even dropped a small robot called Philae on to the surface in November 2014 to gather additional information – a historic first in space exploration.

The European Space Agency says the mission has been an outstanding success and will transform our understanding of the huge icy dirt-balls that wander among the planets.

Source: BBC