Final Rosetta Photos Show Comet 67P In ‘Chilling’ Detail

An icy block of crust rests on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this photo taken on August 30, 2016 from just 1.5 miles (2.5 km) away by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. The short streaks are comet dust on the move during the exposure. Inside the green circle at bottom is one of the Philae lander’s three legs sticking up from behind an obscuring boulder. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

And the meek (and little guys) shall inherit the space age. Take a look at the photos and news that have flooded science journals, youtube and online blogs and astro sites about the small fry of the solar system, asteroids and comets. How lucky to live in this time when mere points of light through most telescope are transformed into real places right before our eyes.

Rosetta photographed this comet pit during its final flyover on September 30, 2016. Comet pits are blow-holes where icy materials beneath the surface become heated, vaporize and then break through to the surface as jet of gas and dust. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Lately, we’ve enjoyed fantastic new closeups of the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Ryugu. In 6 months, New Horizons will fly by the icy asteroid Ultima Thule 5 billion miles away and take the first pictures ever of this denizen of the Kuiper Belt. Just weeks ago, a tiny asteroid named 2018 LA, discovered on June 2, exploded only hours later over Botswana. Since there are billions of comets and asteroids, we’ve barely peeled back the first layer of the onion, but the diversity and unique qualities of these small bodies is testament to the creative prowess of nature.

Rosetta’s final images turned into a movie

Recently, the European Space Agency (ESA) released the final batch of photos taken by its Rosetta spacecraft that reached comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2016 and studied it up close in orbit until a deliberate crash-landing on the surface on September 30, 2016. The final images were taken from July 16 until the the bitter end and show boulders, sparkles of ice, fractured and layered ice boulders and areas covered in thick dust. One image even caught a final glimpse of the tiny lander named Philae, that was released from Rosetta to land on the comet.

A curious layered boulder on comet 67P/C-G’s “gravelly surface” pictured from 1.1 miles (1.8 km) away on September 20, 2016. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Dust is embedded in comet ices and released or ejected when the ice vaporizes in the warm sunlight. Some is lost from the comet to form a tail, while some falls back to create a smooth layer of dust on the surface.

The total count of images from the narrow- and wide-angle cameras came to nearly 100,000 across the spacecraft’s 12 year journey through space, including early flybys of Earth, Mars and two asteroids before arriving at the comet. Some of the most spectacular were taken during the mission’s final two months when Rosetta approached with just 1.24 miles (2 km) of the comet’s crust.

Rugged terrain on the comet seen from 1.3 miles (2.1 km). ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

“The final set of images supplements the rich treasure chest of data that the scientific community are already delving into in order to really understand this comet from all perspectives – not just from images but also from the gas, dust and plasma angle – and to explore the role of comets in general in our ideas of Solar System formation,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist. “There are certainly plenty of mysteries, and plenty still to discover.”

Comet 67P/C-G looks a little like a exercise weight or a dog bone and measures about 2 miles (3.5 km) across. It’s now home to the crashed Rosetta spacecraft as it wends its way from near the sun back into deep space just beyond Jupiter. The sprays are geyser-like bursts of gas and dust caused by solar heating of the comet’s ices. ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

I hope you enjoy your trip to a comet. Imagine it covered in fine, powdery dust with crunchy ice beneath and so little gravitational pull that a person weighting 220-pounds (100 kg) would weigh just 1.1 gram or 1/25th of an ounce. You’d have to take great care not to accidentally launch yourself straight off into space!

When you have time, take a browse through the Rosetta archive for a look at some incredible photos. Click on recent images to get started.

The solar system’s small bodies hold clues to the origin of the planets and life itself. They also have the power to transform life through rare but inevitable impacts with Earth. What better way to celebrate our crazy fixation with them than AsteroidDay2018. Get ready — it’s coming this Saturday!