Rosetta swings by Mars!

By Phil Plait | February 25, 2007 2:12 pm

Rosetta is the name of a European probe that, in the year 2014, will approach a comet and put a lander down on its surface.

As if that’s not cool enough! But other things are afoot. Getting to a comet isn’t easy, and Rosetta is taking a tortured path through the solar system, passing by Mars once and Earth three times!

The Mars swingby occurred Saturday, and was picture perfect. And I mean that literally. When it passed the Red Planet it took some amazing shots:

This was taken before the slingshot maneuver, and it was taken by the navigation camera– it’s not even a science camera! When Rosetta gets close to the comet which goes by the tongue-twisting name of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the images it returns will be killer.

But Mars provides a pretty stunning backdrop too. You can find a color shot of the whole planet here, which I don’t find quite as nice as the greyscale one. Somehow, the greyscale image looks almost three dimensional. I really like that one.

Another cool one was taken showing a high atmospheric cloud on Mars seen from the side:

But perhaps the best one is this:


This was taken when Rosetta was just a few minutes from closest approach to Mars, when it was only about 1000 kilometers (600 miles) over the surface. You can see some details on the ground, and the probe itself is easily visible; that’s a solar panel extending off to the right. It’s like taking a picture out the side window of your car when you’re driving past something cool. But that’s not a car, it’s a space probe, and it’s going considerably faster than highway speeds.

Imagine! From millions of kilometers away, these scientists and engineers threaded the thinnest of imaginable needles, putting Rosetta exactly where it needed to be for the next leg of its trip — a close encounter with Earth in November of this year.

As always, the wonderful Emily Lakdawalla has the latest info at the Planetary Society weblog. She also has guest bloggers, scientists from the European Space Agency who are writing their personal views of these events as they happened. It’s the next best thing to sitting there with them.

And we’re not done yet! Rosetta is on its way back in this direction, but New Horizons is still heading out toward Pluto, and Jupiter is looming large in the windshield. Emily has tons of info and pictures about that as well!

Comments (20)

Links to this Post

  1. A Ler…-- Rastos de Luz | February 26, 2007
  2. International Spaceflight Museum | February 26, 2007
  1. Daffy

    Wow…stuff like this actually makes me proud of my species, you know?

  2. Nathan Hinman

    amazing pictures, I love the one of the entire planet.

    it’s a shame though that Hoagland will never learn to appreciate them.

  3. Chill Out

    High atmospheric cloud? sure, likely nasa trick, thats clearly a martian spacecraft finally getting ready to make contact and share the secrets of the face! Seriously though, very cool pictures.

  4. Kullat Nunu

    The last image was not taken by Rosetta, but by its passenger, Philae. Philae is the small probe that will land on the comet. Given that both Mars and the solar panels don’t look defocused, we can expect to see quite a view!

  5. Grand Lunar

    Incredible!
    Score another for cool unmanned probes!

  6. WOW! Thanks a lot for those pictures. I always love looking at amazing astronomy pictures, but the idea that this is something real never becomes completely clear. Its like that image of the earthrise from the moon. I needed something for reference.
    Like that picture that might have been taken from the side window of the car.

  7. Al

    I agree the monochrome are more appealing. It looks like they cranked up the saturation on the color whole planet picture.. It reminds of a 50′s Technicolor version of Mars.

    I love the cloud shot showing separation between the surface and cloud. The difference between the hemispheres is great in the monochrome whole planet shot.his isn’t some disembodied scope shot or special effects but an actual spacecraft that we built flying by the planet tens of millions miles away! Incredible!

  8. Zoot

    What I find the most fascinating is the insane amounts of nothing that surrounds these clumps of minerals. The gray scale pic illustrates this nicely.

    The over all emptiness of space is stunning.

  9. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, space, so much room to play.
    Unlike a planatary surface, with it’s claustraphobia inducing limits to growth.

    Gee, Mom, I wanna go out there and play!

    My best friend, a DeadHead musician, says of space,” You guys can have it. That will leave room for me on old Earth,,,”

    He’s a great drummer, but he’s such a stick in the mud,,,

    About the Mars photos, they’re “Wunnerful, wunnerful,,,”

    Waiting for the comet pics is like looking forward to a new season of SG Atlantis,,,( I want it NOW!).

    GAry 7

    Gary 7

  10. Can anyone tell me briefly why Rosetta needs to take such a crazy path? My curiosity is eating at me…

  11. Michael

    Does that make it near-Earth object [s]likely[/s] certain to collide with us and cause massive destruction that NASA is trying to coverup? ;)

    In the B&W picture, are the two specks above Mars Phobos and Deimos? At first, I thought there were a bunch of stars, then I wiped my monitor clean and only those two remained. :) I also like the B&W picture better than the color one.

    From Doug Ellison via Emily Lakdawalla’s blog: “The signal strength being monitored is like a 50-watt light bulb at 315 million kilometres and so received signal is 1/100th of a picowatt.” All I can say to that is “Wow”.

  12. John Jackson

    It’s interesting to compare the Philae picture of Mars from 600 miles up to these Genesis I images of Earth from 350 miles up: http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/out_there/view_photos.php

  13. Gary Ansorge

    Jay Solis: It’s just to gain velocity from the various planets orbital velocity around the sun, ie, the whiplash effect,,,makes for a MUCH shorter travel time for the probe with less onboard fuel requirement.

    Gary 7

  14. Melusine

    I like the greyscale image better too. It does make it look more 3-D….like the moon last night. The terminator was so crisp and craters nice and clear through my binoculars. I could even see Pleiades, but not much else.

    I like seeing part of the spacecraft, too, as Emily said on her blog – it shows the real presence up there. Science marches (flys?) on…. :-)

  15. John Schroeder

    Question: Is there video of the pics of the New Horizons craft as it approaches Jupiter?

  16. @Gary Ansorge

    Ah! Yeah – I figured it might be that. Thanks a lot for answering.

    That’s awesome…

  17. Tom

    I love that photo of the planet and the solar panel. Looks like photos I’ve taken out of my Cessna 172 with the wing in the way!

    Cessnas over Mars. Woooo!!

  18. Troy

    This is the first place I’ve seen those images, wow really cool! Mars hasn’t been used much in slilng shot maneuvers since it doesn’t compare to other more weighty worlds like Earth Venus and Jupiter. I think DAWN will use it at some point too.

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