Rosetta Flyby Shows the Earth’s Night Side

Right on schedule on November 13th, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft made its 2nd earthly flyby; testing its scientific instruments, and receiving a much needed gravitational assist. About two hours before its flyby, the spacecraft captured this image of the Earth’s night side, including Asia, Africa and Europe.

When it captured this image, Rosetta was about 80,000 km (50,000 miles) away from the Earth, above the Indian Ocean. It imaged the planet using its OSIRIS instrument.

You can make out the continents Asia, Africa and Europe by the lighted areas of population centres. With less electricity, Africa has large darkened regions. Australia is down at the lower right-hand side of the image, partly lit by the Sun.

Rosetta’s closest approach occurred at 20:57 GMT (3:57 pm EST) at a height of 5,295 km (3,290 miles) above a region of the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Chile.

The spacecraft has now completed 3 billion km of its 7.1 billion km journey to reach comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This was the third planetary swing-by for Rosetta and its second swing-by of Earth.

Now on its way out, Rosetta will focus its instruments on the Moon, and the Earth/Moon system. You can expect more cool images, and maybe even one with both the Earth and the Moon in a single frame. Now that would put things into perspective.

Rosetta will be back. It’s expected to make its third and finally flyby in November 2009. But not before it makes a visit to the asteroid belt, to study asteroid Steins in September 2008.

Original Source: ESA News Release