It’s Alive! Rosetta’s Comet Flares As It Approaches The Sun

by Elizabeth Howell on May 15, 2014

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A close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken from 1.24 million miles (2 million km) away. The image was obtained by the Rosetta spacecraft in April 2014 as it approached the comet for a close-up view. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

A close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken from 1.24 million miles (2 million km) away. The image was obtained by the Rosetta spacecraft in April 2014 as it approached the comet for a close-up view. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Wow! This image shows the target comet for the Rosetta mission starting to develop a tail. This bodes well for the European Space Agency spacecraft, which is on its way to study Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko later this year to learn more about the origins of the solar system.

“It’s beginning to look like a real comet,” stated Holger Sierks, principal investigator for OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System.)

“It’s hard to believe that only a few months from now, Rosetta will be deep inside this cloud of dust and en route to the origin of the comet’s activity,” added Sierks, who is with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany.

The picture was one of a series taken over six weeks, between March 27 and May 4, as the spacecraft zoomed to within 1.24 million miles (two million kilometers) of the target. You can see the full animation by clicking on the image below.

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko develops a coma in this sequence of pictures taken by Rosetta, a European Space Agency spacecraft. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko develops a coma in this sequence of pictures taken by Rosetta (click the picture to see the animation), a European Space Agency spacecraft. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The comet is now about four times as far from the Sun as the Earth is. Even from afar, the Sun’s heat is warming the comet’s ice, causing dust and vapor to carry out into space — forming the coma. The coma will develop into a long tail when the comet gets even closer to the sun.

Rosetta will be the comet’s companion as it draws closer to the sun; its closest approach will be in August 2015, when it is between the orbits of Earth and Mars. So far, the spacecraft’s 11 instruments appear to be in excellent health, ESA stated, although the agency is remaining cautious as the rendezvous date approaches. The spacecraft will begin orbital insertion activities later this month, and send out its Philae lander in November.

“We have a challenging three months ahead of us as we navigate closer to the comet, but after a 10-year journey it’s great to be able to say that our spacecraft is ready to conduct unique science at comet 67P/C-G,” stated Fred Jansen, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.

Source: European Space Agency

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.

jc hanford May 15, 2014 at 9:56 AM

In case anyone’s curious, the star cluster seen in the (distant) background is M 107 in the constellation Ophiuchus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messier_107

It’s located about 21,000 light years from Earth (and Rosetta).

jonno May 15, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Thanks for saving me the trouble of researching the cluster!

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