Monday, March 31, 2014

ESA Rosetta Image: Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko in the constellation Ophiuchus

The OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera aboard ESA's Rosetta probe captured this image on March 21, 2014, showing Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Credit: ESA

The ESA's Rosetta spacecraft opened its eyes in January after a 10-year voyage across the solar system and a long hibernation in deep space.

For the first time since its wakeup call, Rosetta spied its destination.

ESA released images Thursday (March 27) showing Rosetta's glimpse of its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The "first light" images were captured on March 20 and 21 by the OSIRIS wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera aboard Rosetta, from more than 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) away from the comet.

"Finally seeing our target after a 10 year journey through space is an incredible feeling," Holger Sierks, the OSIRIS principal investigator from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, said in a statement.

Holger Sierks
"These first images taken from such a huge distance show us that OSIRIS is ready for the upcoming adventure."

The light from the faraway, 2.5-mile-wide (4 km) comet doesn't even fill up a single pixel.

To create the image, researchers had to obtain a series of 60–300 second exposures.

It took 37 minutes for each image to reach Earth and about an hour for each to download, ESA officials said.

ESA's Rosetta, a solar-powered probe, is on track to enter orbit around the icy body in August 2014. By then, Rosetta should have a 2-meter (6.5 feet) per pixel view of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, complete with surface features.

A robotic lander called Philae, which is piggybacking on Rosetta, is scheduled to touch down on the comet in November 2014.

Securing itself with a harpoon and ice screws, Philae will drill samples and conduct experiments with its 10 science instruments, as Rosetta looks on from above.

If all goes as planned, Rosetta and Philae will continue their observations through December 2015.

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