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What a Blast! Rosetta Probe Watches Comet in Action

Image: Rosetta comet view
This four-image mosaic comprises images taken by Rosetta's NAVCAM imager from a distance of 17.4 miles (28 kilometers) from the center of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Jan. 31. The picture features a prominent jet and other outflows. The large number of small white blobs and streaks in the image are probably specks of dust or other small objects in the comet's vicinity. ESA / Rosetta / NAVCAM - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Things are heating up on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and the Rosetta spacecraft is in on the action. Over the past couple of weeks, the European Space Agency's comet-watching probe has captured several images showing jets of dust and gas spewing into space.

The jets erupt from beneath the comet's surface as the "dirty snowball" approaches the sun and warms up. Earlier images from Rosetta revealed some of the cracks and vents from which the jets arise.

Last Tuesday, the spacecraft's NAVCAM imager snapped a set of "Last Waltz" images from a distance of 18 miles (29 kilometers), and then moved out of orbit to get ready for a series of flybys — including a Valentine's Day encounter that will bring Rosetta within 4 miles (6 kilometers) of the comet's surface.

"The upcoming close flyby will allow unique scientific observations, providing us with high-resolution measurements of the surface over a range of wavelengths and giving us the opportunity to sample — taste or sniff — the very innermost parts of the comet’s atmosphere," Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor said in an update last week.

The $1.7 billion (€1.3 billion) mission made history in November when Rosetta sent its piggyback Philae lander down to the comet's surface for a brief round of scientific observations. Due to complications in the landing sequence (including a couple of bounces), the solar-powered Philae settled in a dark place where it couldn't recharge its batteries. But the Rosetta team is still hoping that hibernating Philae will revive itself this spring as things heat up further.

Image: Rosetta comet view
This four-image mosaic comprises images taken by Rosetta's NAVCAM imager from a distance of 17.8 miles (28.7 kilometers) from the center of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Feb. 3. Jets of material are emanating from the comet's surface. ESA / Rosetta / NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

The European Space Agency is licensing the Rosetta NAVCAM pictures under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO) license. To view a copy of this license, please visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/igo/

Tip o' the Log to Jason Major at Universe Today.