Comet 67/P is seen like never before in a dazzling new photo from the Rosetta spacecraft. This image shows a silhouette of the object, as it is back-lit by the sun.
The Rosetta spacecraft, designed and managed by the European Space Agency (ESA), imaged the comet on March 27, 2016. At that time, the spacecraft was just over 205 miles from its frozen target.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or Rosetta's comet as the icy body is popularly known, is composed of two lobes, resembling a pair of snowballs stuck together. The newest image shows the largest ball on the right of the picture, and the smaller segment to the left. Shadows can be seen falling from the nucleus onto the coma, or dusty atmosphere, surrounding the comet.
During February and March of 2016, mission planners brought the spacecraft close to the body, in order to study the surface in detail. After that segment of the mission, controllers maneuvered the vehicle further away from the frigid comet, in order to study the region around the nucleus.
"Thanks to the combination of a long, four-second exposure, no attenuation filter and a low-gain setting on the analogue signal processor of NAVCAM (a setting that is used to image bright targets), the image reveals the bright environment of the comet, displaying beautiful outflows of activity streaming away from the nucleus in various directions," ESA officials wrote on a news blog for the comet mission.
Each pixel of the comet image represents a 28-mile level of detail. Stars can also be seen in the background of this stunning new photograph.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was discovered in 1969, by a pair of Russian astronomers. The object revolves around the sun once every 6.44 years, never coming as close to our parent star as does the Earth.
The Rosetta spacecraft was launched to Comet 67/P in March 2004. Before it reached its destination, the space-based observatory made three passes by the Earth between 2005 and 2009. In September 2008, the vehicle visited Asteroid Steins, followed by a flyby of Asteroid Lutetia in the summer of 2010. Rosetta finally arrived at Comet 67/P on Aug. 6, 2014, where the vehicle began its primary mission to explore the icy body.