Rosetta is making history
On February 14, the Rosetta probe has touched the comet 67P flying over just 6 km from the surface. Today, February 16, 2015, ESA has released some images, with a resolution of 0.76 meters per pixel, taken from the Navigation Room during the phase of maximum approach.
Never reached so close: just 6 km. So close that it could be considered an embrace than a flyby. And for the embrace, it couldn’t be more of an appropriate day but the Valentine’s Day, so ESA has chosen February 14 to bring the Rosetta probe at the minimum distance from the comet 67P. The closest point of approach was reached at 05:41 US time, while Rosetta flew over the region named Imhotep, the main lobe.
The photo you see above – not adjusted in any way, underline rightly proud from the control center of the mission – represents an area of 1.37 km to the side, and was taken by the Navigation Room board about an hour and a half later, at 7:15, when the distance was still quite low: 8.9 km. Sufficient to ensure that an image of excellent quality, with a resolution of 0.76 meters per pixel.
“The upcoming close flyby will allow unique scientific observations, providing us with high-resolution measurements of the surface over a range of wavelengths and giving us the opportunity to sample – taste or sniff – the very innermost parts of the comet’s atmosphere,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.
“We’re in the main science phase of the mission now, so throughout the year we’ll be continuing with high-resolution mapping of the comet,” says Matt. “We’ll sample the gas, dust and plasma from a range of distances as the comet’s activity increases and then subsides again later in the year.” “We hope to target one of these regions for a fly-through, to really get a taste of the outflow of the comet,” adds Matt Taylor.
The image clearly shows the great variety of cometary soil. You notice formations outcropping in stark contrast to the smooth expanses of land, covered with dust. In some areas, for example in the middle and slightly to the left, you recognize almost perfectly circular and flat surface reliefs. Scattered here and there, boulders ranging from a few meters to a few tens of meters, the largest of them it is called Cheops and it stands proudly at the top center.
“After this close flyby, a new phase will begin, when Rosetta will execute sets of flybys past the comet at a range of distances, between about 15 km and 100 km,” says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA’s spacecraft operations manager.
Rosetta is now at 345 million kilometers from the sun. The point closest to the Sun, the perihelion, will be reached on 13 August, when the comet will travel between the orbits of Earth and Mars is about 186 million from our star.