Rosetta's first glimpse of the comet

Jun 08, 2011
Left: Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko is hidden within this sector of space, a crowded star field in the constellation Scorpius that is towards the center of our galaxy. The image was taken by OSIRIS's wide-angle camera. Middle: The narrow-angle camera allows for a closer look, and shows many background stars. Right: After refined steps of data processing the comet becomes visible. (Credits: ESA 2011 MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA)

Three years before its arrival the camera system on board the space probe Rosetta renders the first images of its destination.

Approximately 163 million kilometers still separate ESA's spacecraft Rosetta from comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, its 2014 target. Despite this remarkable distance, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany have succeeded in obtaining the first images of the remote destination using the onboard camera system OSIRIS. These pictures were generated during the tests performed by the team during the last weeks. After the successful completion of these tests, Rosetta will now start its almost three year hibernation period: In order to save energy on the last part of the way offering only little sunlight, all systems will be powered down.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

In these first images comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears as a single point of light covering only a few pixels. "But the pictures already give us a good idea of where we are headed", says Dr. Holger Sierks from MPS, OSIRIS Lead Investigator. "In addition, they are a remarkable proof of the camera's performance. We had not expected to be able to create first images from so far away".

Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko is extremely faint. Its brightness is approximately a million times less then that of the faintest star that can be discerned from Earth with the . Astronomers studying the comet from Earth use the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile, one of the world's most powerful telescopes with a main mirror diameter of eight meters. OSIRIS's mirror measures only approximately ten centimeters in diameter.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

In order to make the comet visible despite these challenges, an exposure time of 13 hours was necessary. "All in all, we took 52 images with OSIRIS, each exposed for 15 minutes", explains Dr. Colin Snodgrass from MPS, responsible for data processing. Since within a period of a few hours the comet moves relative to the background of fixed stars, the first step was to align all of the and correct for this motion. After further refined steps of data processing (for example subtracting the fixed stars) the researchers were able to catch a first glimpse of their destination.

Before they get a chance at a second glimpse, it will, however, be a long wait. The systems on board Rosetta will be powered down today for approximately three years. In this way the solar panel powered spacecraft saves energy while it is far from the Sun - until it reawakens in the spring of 2014 and takes a next look at "its" comet.

The spacecraft has been en route to Churyumov-Gerasimenko since 2004. OSIRIS, the scientific camera system on board, was developed and built under the lead of the MPS in cooperation with a team bringing together members of six European countries. It consists of a wide- and a narrow-angle camera. The is operated by scientists from MPS.

Explore further: NKorea launch pad expansion 'nearing completion'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

When is a comet not a comet? Rosetta finds out

Oct 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- It was a case of celestial hit and run. Two asteroids, both in the wrong place at the wrong time. The result: one big trail of debris and a case of mistaken identity. Now, however, ESA’s ...

First view of Earth as Rosetta approaches home

Nov 12, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- This spectacular image of our home planet was captured by the OSIRIS instrument on ESA's Rosetta comet chaser earlier today as the spacecraft approached Earth for the third and final swingby. ...

Fascinating images from a new world

Jul 14, 2010

The ESA space probe Rosetta flew past the Lutetia planetoid at around 6 p.m. CEST on Saturday. The OSIRIS camera system, built and developed under the direction of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System ...

Rosetta's final Earth boost

Nov 04, 2009

ESA's comet chaser Rosetta will swing by Earth for the last time on 13 November to pick up energy and begin the final leg of its 10-year journey to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ESA's European Space Operations ...

Where comets emit dust

Apr 26, 2010

Studying comets can be quite dangerous - especially from close up. Because the tiny particles of dust emitted into space from the so-called active regions on a comet's surface can damage space probes.

Boosting the accuracy of Rosetta's Earth approach

Oct 19, 2007

Yesterday, 18 October at 18:06 CEST, the thrusters of ESA’s comet chaser, Rosetta, were fired in a planned, 42-second trajectory correction manoeuvre designed to 'fine tune' the spacecraft's approach to ...

Recommended for you

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

8 hours ago

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

8 hours ago

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

8 hours ago

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

Voyager map details Neptune's strange moon Triton

10 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager's historic footage of Triton has been "restored" ...

How the sun caused an aurora this week

11 hours ago

On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this ...

User comments : 0