Rosetta: 50 kilometers from a comet (PHOTO).

50 Kilometers From a Comet

50 Kilometers From a Comet

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 10 2014 12:03 PM

50 Kilometers From a Comet

One of my favorite pastimes is to simply drink in the scenery on long drives or as I bike around the countryside. You never know what you might see, what spectacle might present itself.

For Rosetta the situation is very similar … except when you’re a spacecraft hundreds of millions of kilometers from Earth, slowly approaching a comet, the scenic overlook may prove just a tad more dramatic:

comet and Rosetta
The comet looms mysteriously in the distance as seen by a camera on the Rosetta spacecraft's Philae lander. One of Rosetta's solar panels is in the foreground, providing a dramatic contrast. Click to dirtysnowballenate.

Photo by ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

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Holy. Yikes!

That shot was taken by the Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer, or CIVA, camera on board Rosetta’s Philae lander. The lander is still mounted to the spacecraft, so in this shot you can see Rosetta’s solar panels and part of the main spacecraft body.

And just above hangs the target of the mission: the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. With the Sun far below, the double-lobed comet is lit incredibly dramatically, each half of the comet a ragged crescent. From 50 kilometers (30 miles) away a lot of features can be seen, but this view is soon to get substantially better: In November, Philae will touch down on the surface of the comet, and the pictures we’ll get from this camera will show up close and personal the bizarre, alien landscape of this tiny world.