I miss you guys. I’ve been in a white heat the past couple weeks finishing writing a book about the stars with little time to devote to much else. But this beautiful photo taken by Damian Peach of Rosetta’s Comet deserves to be seen by a wider audience. The photo shows the comet against a fantastic backdrop of galaxies in the Virgo Cluster and makes for a wonderful study in depth perception with 67P/C-G 185 only 139 million miles (223.7 million km) away compared to the cluster’s distance of 50 million light years.
Temperatures are dropping at the comet as it departs the sun for the colder realms beyond the asteroid belt, but the Rosetta spacecraft remains in orbit, its eye always on the comet. Photos and data are still being gathered as the mission aims for as complete a view as possible of a comet’s evolution. Coaxed by heat from the sun, 67P evolved from a relatively inert, dirty iceberg to a lively landscape of dusty jets, vaporizing ice and crumbling cliffs.
Among the more recently-announced discoveries: definitive proof of exposed water ice on the surface of the comet. The ice is associated with cliff walls and debris falls, and was at an average temperature of about –184° F (-120° C) at the time. We also know the comet’s topmost layer is mostly coated in a dark, dry and organic-rich material with a small amount of water ice mixed in.
The mission was originally planned to end last month, but happily it’s been extended through the end of September this year. About the only bad news is the lack of contact with the little lander Philae. A recent attempt was made to contact the probe, still sitting in the dust on the comet’s surface, but no signal was received. With the temperature dropping a little bit every day, time is running out for the craft. By the end of this month, its operating temperature will reach -60° F (-51° C) at which point the lander will no longer be able to run.
Closer to home, the waning gibbous moon will pass by Jupiter the next two nights. Watch for it to rise a little before the planet in the constellation Leo this evening when the two will be about 7 apart. Tomorrow night (Jan. 27) the moon will be just 5 on the other side or east of Jupiter. Great to finally be getting an evening planet!
Now back to my hole 😉