67P Jan18_2015 Damian Peach FEA

Rosetta’s Comet Flies By The Galaxies / Moon Buzzes Jupiter

Sleek and delicate, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko crosses through field of galaxies in the constellation Virgo on Jan. 18, 2016. Months past perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, the comet is cooling as it heads back out toward Jupiter. Credit: Damian Peach
Sleek and delicate, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko crosses a field of galaxies in the constellation Virgo on Jan. 18, 2016. Now about five months past perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, the comet is cooling as it swings back out toward Jupiter. The large galaxy is NGC 4365. Credit: Damian Peach

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.

High-resolution image of Comet 67P/C-G taken on January 23. Be sure to click to see it in detail! Credit: ESA/Rosetta
High-resolution image of Comet 67P/C-G taken on January 23, 2016. Be sure to click to see it in detail! Credit: ESA/Rosetta

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.

Ice patches in the Imhotep region on the comet that measure several tens of meters across or around 40 feet. Credit: ESA/Rosetta
Ice patches in the Imhotep region on the comet that measure several tens of meters across (around 40 feet) are circled. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

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.

The waning gibbous moon rises with Jupiter tonight. This map shows the view around 9:30-10 p.m. local time. Stellarium
The waning gibbous moon rises with Jupiter tonight. This map shows the view around 9:30-10 p.m. local time. Stellarium

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 😉

5 Responses

    1. astrobob

      Hi Randy,
      Sure. It’s all about naked-eye nighttime observing. No equipment needed. Assuming all goes according to plan – when has that ever happened – it should publish in late September.

  1. Hi Bob,

    The Moon & Jupiter looked great rising together behind the trees last night so I took a couple of side by side photos and made a 3D picture of it. I just used my little camera and steadied it as best I could. It’s just one of the cross-eyed type… hope it doesn’t give you a headache!

    http://tinyurl.com/h83shxc

    Good luck with the book – I look forward to seeing it in print.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Paul,
      Hey, that really worked well! Nice 3D with the tree. Thanks for the link. I encourage other readers to give a look. Thanks also for the wishes on the book. It should publish in September, but we’ll see how it goes.

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