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.
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“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.