234 Kilometers to a Comet

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 5 2014 12:06 PM

Rosetta: 234 Kilometers and Closing!

Yesterday, when the Rosetta spacecraft was a mere 234 kilometers (145 miles) from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or just ChuGer) it took this amazing image with its navigational camera:

67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Rosetta snapped this shot of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from a mere 234 km away. It'll get closer yet by tomorrow.

Photo by ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

That’s the full-resolution image; the folks at the European Space Agency also provided another one that’s been expanded in size by a factor of two:

rosetta_aug4_interp
Come closer ...

Photo by ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

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Wow. What a bizarre, alien place! Mind you, the main OSIRIS camera has more resolution than the NAVCAM, so we’ll be getting better pictures soon. And of course, Rosetta is still on the approach! The landscape (cometscape?) is coming into focus. There are large circular features (craters?) and what looks like debris scattered across the surface. However, due to issues with image artifacts and so on, I’ll avoid speculating on what we’re seeing in detail; I made that mistake before! I’m excited, but I can wait. It won’t be long …

That’s because Rosetta will perform a final braking maneuver at 09:00 UTC (05:00 EDT) Wednesday (Aug. 6) morning and will enter an initial 100 km orbit above ChuGer at 09:06 UTC when the thruster burn is completed.

When this occurs, it will be the first time in history humans have placed a spacecraft into orbit around a comet.

The ESA will provide a live feed of the events starting at 08:00 UTC Wednesday.

More info:

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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