What Will Rosetta’s Comet Look Like? How Artists Over The Years Pictured It

Comets are notoriously hard to predict — just ask those people on Comet ISON watch late in 2013. So as Rosetta approaches its cometary target, no one really knows what the comet will look like from up close. Yes, there are pictures of other cometary nuclei (most famously, Halley’s Comet) but this one could look completely different.

Several artists have taken a stab at imagining what Rosetta will see when it gets close to the comet in August, and what Philae will touch on when it reaches the surface in November. You can see their work throughout this article.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency just issued an update on what they can see of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from half a million km away — the comet is quieter, they said.

“Strikingly, there is no longer any sign of the extended dust cloud that was seen developing around nucleus at the end of April and into May,” ESA stated in a press release. “Indeed, monitoring of the comet has shown a significant drop in its brightness since then.”

Artist's impression (from 2002) of Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab
Artist’s impression (from 2002) of Rosetta orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab

This variability is common in comets, but it’s the first time it’s been seen from so close, ESA said. Comets warm up as they approach the sun, releasing ice, gas and dust that form a swarm of material.

“As comets are non-spherical and lumpy, this process is often unpredictable, with activity waxing and waning as they warm. The observations made over the six weeks from the end of April to early June show just how quickly the conditions at a comet can change,” ESA added.

For more about Philae’s landing, check out this past article from Universe Today.

Rosetta flies above the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this artist's impression from 2002. Credit: Astrium - E. Viktor
Rosetta flies above the Philae lander on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this artist’s impression from 2002. Credit: Astrium – E. Viktor
Artist's impression (from 2002) of the Philae lander during descent on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab
Artist’s impression (from 2002) of the Philae lander during descent on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA, image by AOES Medialab
Rosetta flies above Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in this 2013 artist's impression. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab
Rosetta flies above Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in this 2013 artist’s impression. Credit: ESA–C. Carreau/ATG medialab
Artist's impression (from 2013) of the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab
Artist’s impression (from 2013) of the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

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

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

Rosetta’s Philae Lander Snaps a Selfie

Philae is awake… and taking pictures! This image, acquired last night with the lander’s CIVA (Comet nucleus Infrared and Visible Analyzer) instrument, shows the left and right solar panels of ESA’s well-traveled Rosetta spacecraft, upon which the 100-kilogram Philae is mounted.

Philae successfully emerged from hibernation on March 28 via a wake-up call from ESA.

After over a decade of traveling across the inner Solar System, Rosetta and Philae are now in the home stretch of their ultimate mission: to orbit and achieve a soft landing on comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will be the first time either feat has ever been attempted by a spacecraft. Read more here.

Source: ESA Rosetta Blog

Fly to Rosetta’s Comet with this New Interactive Visualization

Hang onto your space helmets.  With a few moves of the mouse, you can now follow the European Rosetta mission to its target comet with this interactive 3-D simulator. Go ahead and give it a click – it’s live! The new simulator was created by INOVE Space Models, the same group that gave us the 3-D solar system and Comet ISON interactive models.

The embedded version gives you a taste, so be sure to also check out the full-screen version. You can either click play to watch the mission from start to finish or you can drop it at key points by selecting from list of 11 highlights on the left side of your screen. A tick-tock at the bottom of the screen helps reference the time and what the spacecraft is doing at that moment in the video.

To interact with the model, simply click the screen. The action stops, allowing you to zoom in and out by scrolling; to change orbital viewpoints hold down the mouse button and drag. So easy!

Simulator view of Rosetta's first Earth flyby / gravity assist in March 2005. The probe flew by Earth three times and Mars once to conserve fuel and send it beyond the asteroid belt to rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: INOVE
Simulator view of Rosetta’s first Earth flyby / gravity assist in March 2005. The probe flew by Earth three times and Mars once to conserve fuel and send it beyond the asteroid belt to rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credit: INOVE

I like the realism of the simulation, the attention paid to the planets’ variable spin rates and orbital periods and how well model illustrates the complicated maneuvers required to “fling” the probe to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. And I do mean fling. Watching the video from a face-on solar system perspective I was struck  by how Rosetta’s flight path resembled a spiral after repeated gravity assists by Mars and Earth.

Rosetta heads toward Comet C-G after its final Earth flyby in this face-on view. Credit: INOVE
Rosetta heads toward Comet C-G after its final Earth flyby in this face-on view. Credit: INOVE

Whether you’re a teacher or an armchair space enthusiast looking for an easy-to-understand, graphic way to find out how Rosetta will meet its target, I doubt you’ll find a more effective tool.

ESA Awakens Rosetta’s Comet Lander

Little Philae is awake! ESA sent a wake-up call to the 100-kg (220-lb) lander riding aboard the Rosetta spacecraft this morning at 06:00 GMT, bringing it out of its nearly 33-month-long slumber and beginning its preparation for its upcoming (and historic) landing on the surface of a comet in November.

Unlike Rosetta, which awoke in January via a pre-programmed signal, Philae received a “personal wake-up call” from Earth, 655 million kilometers away.

Hello, world! ESA's Rosetta and Philae comet explorers are now both awake and well!
Hello, world! ESA’s Rosetta and Philae comet explorers are now both awake and well!

A confirmation signal from the lander was received by ESA five and a half hours later at 11:35 GMT.

After over a decade of traveling across the inner Solar System, Rosetta and Philae are now in the home stretch of their ultimate mission: to orbit and achieve a soft landing on the inbound comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will be the first time either feat has ever been attempted — and hopefully achieved — by a spacecraft.

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

After Rosetta maneuvers to meet up with the comet in May and actually enters orbit around it in August, it will search its surface for a good place for Philae to make its landing in November.

With a robotic investigator both on and around it, 67/P CG will reveal to us in intimate detail what a comet is made of and really happens to it as it makes its close approach to the Sun.

“Landing on the surface is the cherry on the icing on the cake for the Rosetta mission on top of all the great science that will be done by the orbiter in 2014 and 2015. A good chunk of this year will be spent identifying where we will land, but also taking vital measurements of the comet before it becomes highly active. No one has ever attempted this before and we are very excited about the challenge!”
– Matt Taylor, Rosetta project scientist

Meanwhile, today’s successful wake-up call let the Rosetta team know Philae is doing well. Further systems checks are planned for the lander throughout April.

Watch an animation of the deployment and landing of Philae on comet 67/P CG below:

Source: ESA’s Rosetta blog

Want to welcome Rosetta and Philae back on your computer? Download a series of ESA’s “Hello, World” desktop screens here.