Sweet Valentine’s Day Closeups Of Rosetta’s Comet

Four image mosaic of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comprising images taken on 14 February at 14:15 GMT from a distance of 8.9 km from the surface. The image scale is 0.76 m/pixel and the mosaic measures 1.35×1.37 km across. The image focuses on the stunning features of the Imhotep region, on the comet’s large lobe. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Four image mosaic of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken on Feb. 14 at 8:15 a.m. (CST) from a distance of 5.5 miles from the surface. The view measures 0.8 miles across. The image focuses on the stunning features of the Imhotep region, on the comet’s large lobe. Click for a large version. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to fly over a comet in a jet airplane, soak in these photos. This past Saturday, the Rosetta spacecraft swung within 3.7 miles (6 km) of the surface of Comet 67P/C-G. Pictures for the mosaic image (above) were taken from an altitude of just 29,000 feet, nearly 10,000 feet lower than a typical transatlantic flight.

It really is like looking out the plane window especially when you consider you’re viewing a chunk of landscape barely a mile across. You and I could walk across that mosaic in less than 20 minutes! Assuming no obstacles of course.

Cropped, close-in view of several raised circular structures near the center of the mosaic. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Cropped, close-in view of several raised circular structures near the center of the mosaic. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Closest approach occurred over the Imhotep region on the comet’s large lobe. What caught my eye was the long, layered mesa-like feature in the lower left of the frame. In the cropped version, you can make out the outlines of several raised, near-circular structures with smooth floors. Boulders, ranging in size from 12 feet (a few meters) to a 35 feet (10 meters) lie scattered across the whole surface of the comet. The big boulder near the top of the mosaic and seen up close below is named Cheops. It’s 148 feet or about 45 meters across.

Close-up view of the large, mesa-like formation photographed by Rosetta on Saturday from 29,000 feet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Close-up, rotated view of the layered formation photographed by Rosetta on Saturday from 29,000 feet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
The big boulder Cheops casts a shadow at upper right. It's not far from what looks like a section of the comet's crust that's collapsed. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
The big boulder Cheops (upper right) sits in its shadow. It’s not far from what looks like a collapsed area of the comet’s crust (left). Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
What appears to be a collapsed section of a cliff or wall. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
What appears to be a collapsed section of a cliff or wall. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Download the mosaic to your desktop and take a few minutes to explore it. You’ll find flows, depressions, more of of those circular features and a delightful assortment of boulders of all shapes and sizes. What are those things – dust-covered ice chunks?

Rosetta is now moving out for a far view of the comet and will reach a distance of about 158 miles (255 km) from the comet’s center tomorrow. Stop by in a day or two for new pictures of 67P’s atmosphere or coma. In the meantime you can download a zip file of the 16 individual frames comprising the mosaic here.

8 Responses

  1. Ray

    Wow! In terms of surface geology, I would say that this little comet, despite its size, is quite a bit more interesting than some of the Solar System’s large, icy moons. The diversity of visible features is just astounding.

    1. astrobob

      Ray,
      I couldn’t agree more. I don’t recall ever seeing that mesa-like formation in other images. Blows me away.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Carol,
      I honestly don’t know. They look like the lunar crater Wargentin that filled to the brim with lava from cracks in its floor. I wonder if they were impacts that melted subsurface ice. Later, material around them sublimated away leaving them as standing pedastals. ??

  2. Edward M. Boll

    Speaking of comets, the second brightest may be Siding Spring. Some one called it 10.9 magnitude in late January. It is fading but very slowly. While receding from the Sun, it is getting closer to Earth.

  3. It’d have to be a pretty big obstacle Bob! We’d all be like the Six Million Dollar Man on that thing though, I suppose, the problem wouldn’t be so much jumping… landing might take a while.

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