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Emily LakdawallaMarch 27, 2014

Comet spotted! Rosetta's first sight of Churymov-Gerasimenko since wakeup

Rosetta is doing the spacecraft equivalent of yawning and stretching after its long sleep, and last week the spacecraft rubbed its proverbial eyes and blinked a few times, squinting at its distant target. Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko is still five million kilometers away and less than a pixel across to even Rosetta's highest-resolution cameras. Still: there it is!

Rosetta's first sight of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko of final approach phase

ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA

Rosetta's first sight of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko of final approach phase
Shortly after waking from its long hibernation, Rosetta pointed its cameras at its comet target for the first time on March 20, 2014. The star-filled Wide-Angle Camera image contains comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko in the constellation of Ophiuchus. It shows a wide field 25 times larger than the diameter of the full moon. The color composite shows a background of hydrogen gas and dust clouds. The white box indicates the position of the close-up taken with the Narrow Angle Camera, with the comet appearing towards the top of this box, close to the bright globular star cluster M107. The image was taken from a distance of about 5 million kilometers to the comet.

No, it's not the bright smudge in the picture; that's a globular star cluster, M107. Here's a Narrow-Angle Camera view, corresponding to the rectangle in the middle:

Rosetta's first sight of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko of final approach phase (narrow-angle detail)

ESA © 2014 MPS for OSIRIS-Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA

Rosetta's first sight of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko of final approach phase (narrow-angle detail)
Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko in the constellation Ophiuchus. This image was taken on March 21, 2014 by the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera. The comet is indicated by the small circle next to the bright globular star cluster M107. The image was taken from a distance of about 5 million kilometers to the comet.

Just a dot! But a very important dot. Unlike all the other dots in the image, this one will grow and grow over the coming months.

What's going on with Rosetta right now? The cameras -- more formally known as the OSIRIS instrument -- are just two of a great many individual instruments being turned on and put through their paces this month. One of the most important events comes tomorrow, according to a tweet from ESA Operations this morning:

Command to wake lander @Philae2014 was sent last week, will be executed on board @ESA_Rosetta tomorrow at 07:00CET pic.twitter.com/0ugGMYHRdL

— ESA Operations (@esaoperations) March 27, 2014

One note about the image above: it's not actually Rosetta's first image of the comet, just the first one since hibernation. Rosetta took its first image before entering hibernation, two years ago yesterday.

For more details about Rosetta's wakeup and rendezvous plans, see my last blog entry on that, and to follow the details of the commissioning phase, read the Rosetta blog.

Read more: Rosetta and Philae, comets, mission status, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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