According to a NASA statement, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe, to which NASA contributed, has captured a new and beautifully detailed image of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta captured the image on August 7 from a distance of 65 miles. The image depicts the nucleus of the comet, which is 2.5 miles in diameter.
The image reveals a very complex topography. In the top half of the image is the nucleus’ head, a domain of steep-sided, mesa-like features interspersed with gentler slopes. A vast, striated cliff lead sharply down to the neck, a depressed area strewn with boulders. The bottom half of the image shows the nucleus’ body, which exhibits a strange hodgepodge of smooth and more rugged terrane, with numerous ridges and valleys throughout.
The image was taken by Rosetta’s onboard scientific imaging system, OSIRIS. As with Rosetta itself and the Philae lander, OSIRIS is an international endeavor, bringing together scientists from many institutions, such as ESA, NASA, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the French National Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and numerous universities throughout Europe.
Rosetta blasted off in March 2004 and was reawakened in January 2014 after 957 of dormancy. Rosetta will image and examine comet 67P in extreme detail, following it as its orbit takes it past the Sun. Rosetta also will deploy the Philae lander to the surface of the cometary nucleus in November 2014.
Rosetta’s mission is meant to shed light on the ancient material contained in a cometary nucleus, left over from the birth of the solar system. Rosetta will document how the comet changes as the Sun’s radiation becomes stronger. Once deployed to the surface, Philae will capture images and drill into the surface material to analyze its makeup. Comets might have played an important part in the nascent solar system, seeding primordial worlds, such as Earth, with water.