Image: Rosetta's target up close

August 7, 2014
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

( —Close up detail focusing on a smooth region on the 'base' of the 'body' section of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was taken by Rosetta's Onboard Scientific Imaging System (OSIRIS) on August 6, 2014. The image clearly shows a range of features, including boulders, craters and steep cliffs. The image was taken from a distance of 80 miles (130 kilometers) and the image resolution is 8 feet (2.4 meters) per pixel.

The three U.S. instruments aboard the spacecraft are the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO), an called Alice, and the Ion and Electron Sensor (IES). They are part of a suite of 11 science instruments aboard the Rosetta orbiter.

MIRO is designed to provide data on how gas and dust leave the surface of the nucleus to form the coma and tail that gives comets their intrinsic beauty. Studying the surface temperature and evolution of the coma and tail provides information on how the evolves as it approaches and leaves the vicinity of the sun.

Alice will analyze gases in the comet's coma, which is the bright envelope of gas around the nucleus of the comet developed as a comet approaches the sun. Alice also will measure the rate at which the comet produces water, and carbon dioxide. These measurements will provide valuable information about the surface composition of the nucleus.

NASA also provided part of the electronics package for the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer, which is part of the Swiss-built Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) instrument. ROSINA will be the first instrument in space with sufficient resolution to be able to distinguish between molecular nitrogen and carbon monoxide, two molecules with approximately the same mass. Clear identification of nitrogen will help scientists understand conditions at the time the solar system was formed.

U.S. scientists are partnering on several non-U.S. instruments and are involved in seven of the mission's 21 instrument collaborations. NASA's Deep Space Network is supporting ESA's Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.

Launched in March 2004, Rosetta was reactivated in January 2014 after a record 957 days in hibernation. Composed of an orbiter and lander, Rosetta's objectives upon arrival at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August are to study the celestial object up close in unprecedented detail, prepare for landing a probe on the comet's in November, and track its changes as it sweeps past the sun.

Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the sun and its planets formed. Rosetta's lander will obtain the first images taken from a comet's surface and will provide the first analysis of a comet's composition by drilling into the surface. Rosetta also will be the first spacecraft to witness at close proximity how a comet changes as it is subjected to the increasing intensity of the sun's radiation. Observations will help scientists learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and the role comets may have played in seeding Earth with water, and perhaps even life.

Explore further: NASA instruments on Rosetta comet spacecraft begin activation countdown

Related Stories

Image: Rosetta bids farewell to Lutetia

July 8, 2014

( —This ethereal image shows a stunning sliver of large main-belt asteroid Lutetia from the viewpoint of ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, taken as Rosetta passed by on its 10-year voyage towards comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Rosetta measures comet's temperature

August 1, 2014

( —ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has made its first temperature measurements of its target comet, finding that it is too hot to be covered in ice and must instead have a dark, dusty crust.

Amazing new photo of Rosetta comet

August 4, 2014

As the ESA's Rosetta spacecraft closes to within 1000 km of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Rosetta science team has released a new image and made the first temperature measurements of the comet's core. The temperature ...

Recommended for you

Earth might have hairy dark matter

November 23, 2015

The solar system might be a lot hairier than we thought. A new study publishing this week in the Astrophysical Journal by Gary Prézeau of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, proposes the existence of ...

The hottest white dwarf in the Galaxy

November 25, 2015

Astronomers at the Universities of Tübingen and Potsdam have identified the hottest white dwarf ever discovered in our Galaxy. With a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, this dying star at the outskirts of the Milky ...

Scientists detect stellar streams around Magellanic Clouds

November 23, 2015

(—Astronomers from the University of Cambridge, U.K., have detected a number of narrow streams and diffuse debris clouds around two nearby irregular dwarf galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. The research also ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.