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Rosetta Spacecraft Spies Its Comet As It Prepares For An August Encounter

The Rosetta spacecraft saw its destination (Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko) on March 20, 2014 from about three million miles (five million kilometers) away. The comet is in the small circle next to the globular star cluster M107. ESA/MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The Rosetta spacecraft saw its destination (Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko) on March 20, 2014 from about three million miles (five million kilometers) away. The comet is in the small circle next to the globular star cluster M107. ESA/MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

As Rosetta limbers up for its close-up encounter with a comet, we have visual confirmation that it’s on the right track! The comet spied its destination — Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko — using its OSIRIS wide-angle camera and narrow-angle camera on March 20 and March 21.

“Finally seeing our target after a 10 year journey through space is an incredible feeling,” stated OSIRIS principal investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. “These first images taken from such a huge distance show us that OSIRIS is ready for the upcoming adventure.”

The image comes as Rosetta is preparing its science instruments for its encounter in August.

“Currently, Rosetta is on a trajectory that would, if unchanged, take it past the comet at a distance of approximately 50 000 km and at a relative speed of 800 m/s. A critical series of manoeuvres beginning in May will gradually reduce Rosetta’s velocity relative to the comet to just 1 m/s and bring it to within 100 km by the first week of August,” the European Space Agency stated.

Here’s an animation of how big the comet will appear to Rosetta as it gets closer:

“Between May and August the 4 km-wide comet will gradually ‘grow’ in Rosetta’s field of view from appearing to have a diameter of less than one camera pixel to well over 2000 pixels – equivalent to a resolution of around 2 m per pixel – allowing the first surface features to be resolved.”

For more information on the science commissioning, check out the Rosetta blog.

Artist's impression (not to scale) of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab.

Artist’s impression (not to scale) of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab.

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • mewo March 27, 2014, 6:35 PM

    Can’t wait for August. This is going to be fascinating.

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