Rosetta's cometary goal now in sight

By Phil Plait | June 9, 2011 11:03 am

Rosetta is an amazing probe launched by the European Space Agency. In 2014 it will go into orbit around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and actually deploy a lander to sample the surface!

That rendezvous is still years away, but the target is now in sight: Rosetta has returned its first image of the comet.

Oh, very cool! The top image is the wide angle shot, showing a densely-populated star field toward the center of our galaxy; from Rosetta that’s the direction to the comet. The second image zooms in a bit, and you can see some distant stars and nebulosity. The bottom one has been processed to remove the stars, and the nucleus of Churyumov-Gerasimenko stands out.

Note that this image was taken when Rosetta was still 163 million kilometers (100 million miles) from the comet — that’s more than the distance from the Earth to the Sun! That’s why it took a total of 13 hours of exposure time to see the comet in these images; it’s still extremely faint from that great distance.

These pictures are important for several reasons: they test the cameras, a critical event for the upcoming encounter; they provide navigation cues, allowing engineers to test if the position of the comet is where they expected it to be; and they give the scientists and engineers practice in dealing with the images from the probe.

Not that Rosetta has simply been coasting along; it’s passed by the Earth, Mars, and even two asteroids — Lutetia (see the gallery below of those spectacular images!) and Steins — returning incredibly lovely pictures of these worlds.

Rosetta is already a very successful mission, and the best is yet to come.


Image gallery of Rosetta’s flyby of the asteroid Lutetia


Related posts:

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Comets
Rosetta takes some home pictures
Earth from Rosetta
Rosetta swings by Mars

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Space

Comments (9)

  1. Pete Jackson

    163 million km in 1000 days, that’s 163,000 km a day or about 2 km a second. It’s a big solar system out there!

  2. reidh

    really good telemetry, I mean stupendously good. Tycho Brahe would be proud. if he weren’t in hell.

  3. Daffy

    The “Rock and Rings” photos is incredible. I can’t stop looking at it!

  4. Brahe’s not in hell. His nose might be …

  5. Yoruichi

    wow that is awesome :P this

  6. Messier Tidy Upper

    @2. reidh :

    ” …really good telemetry, I mean stupendously good.”

    Yep, I’m with you there, absolutely. :-)

    “.. Tycho Brahe would be proud.”

    Hmm .. well, ye-es, I guess that’s probably true but then so too would be Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Edward Emerson Barnard & other astronomers past – and present. What’s with singling Tycho out here?

    ” .. if he weren’t in hell.”

    :-o WHAT THE …. !?! [Jaw drops.]

    Erm .. Seriously, where the blazes did that come from & what the heck do you mean by that?!?

    On second thoughts, I’m not sure I even want to know. Dude, that is messed up. :-(

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    2014, wow, that *is* a long way off – is Rosetta going to be keeping the comet in sight for the whole of the next three years or so?

    Great picture and accomplishment. :-)

  8. @6. Messier Tidy Upper :
    A reference to Penny Arcade, I believe. One of the main character is named Tycho Brahe and makes a few speeches about Hell.
    Seriously mate, that high horse is looking a bit tired. You should allow it to rest a minute…

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Unwept : Penny Arcade? Never heard of it / them. Ok then, just perhaps it does make sense in the right context if you know the reference but NOT knowing that ref or context reidh’s comment #2 sounds just “WTF!” to me.


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