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Caught on Camera! Comet-Chasing Probe Spots Its Target

Image: Probe's view of comet
A March 20 view from Rosetta's OSIRIS wide-angle camera shows Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, highlighted by a white box. ESA / MPS for OSIRIS Team

It's just a speck among the stars — but for the European Space Agency's Rosetta comet-chasing spacecraft, it's a biggie. These pictures, released Thursday, show Rosetta's target for the first time since the solar-powered probe woke up from two and a half years of hibernation.

Rosetta has been heading toward Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for 10 years, and from now on, the 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer-wide) comet will be taking up more of the frame in the camera images. Rosetta is due to rendezvous with the dirty snowball in May, circle closer and closer for science observations, and then drop its piggyback Philae lander onto the surface in November.

These pictures were taken from a distance of about 3 million miles (5 million kilometers) on March 20 and 21. For more about the Rosetta mission, check out ESA's news release, the Rosetta Blog, and this story about Rosetta's wake-up call.

Image: Rosetta view of comet
This March 21 picture from Rosetta's OSIRIS narrow-angle camera shows Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the constellation Ophiuchus. The comet is indicated by the small circle next to the bright globular star cluster M107. ESA / MPS for OSIRIS Team