Rosetta delivers amazing surface map of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

It appears that the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta is making the most of its instruments to make the most of its mission. The spacecraft was launched in March 2004 to study in detail the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and has rendezvoused with its target comet in August this year.

Earlier this week, Rosetta sent scientific data that revealed comet 67P, which scientists thought have large water-ice patches, had none of these at all and that the comet is blacker than coal.  On Thursday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that the high-resolution images taken by Rosetta's scientific imaging system revealed that the surface of comet 67P can be divided into different regions.

By analyzing images taken by Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS), scientists were able to come up with a map that defines several regions on the comet's surface, each marked by distinct physical appearance.

"OSIRIS is Rosetta's main imaging system and is consists of two independent camera systems.  "The narrow angle camera is designed to produce high spatial resolution images of the nucleus of the target comet," ESA said. "The wide angle camera has a wide field of view and high straylight rejection to image the dust and gas directly above the surface of the nucleus of the target comet,"

Some areas of the comet were dominated by craters, boulders, cliffs and parallel groves. There are also areas that appear to be quiet while others were apparently affected by particles that emanate from below the comet's surface.

Holger Sierks, the Principal Investigator of OSIRIS, from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Solar System Science (MPS), said that this is the first time that they have seen a cometary surface in such detail.

"It is a historic moment -- we have an unprecedented resolution to map a comet," Sierks said adding that the first map of comet 67P will only be the start of their work as it is not yet clear how the variations in the comet's surfaces formed. "At this point, nobody truly understands how the surface variations we are currently witnessing came to be."

As Rosetta continues to travel with comet 67 P as it heads closer to the sun, scientists will make use of OSIRIS and other instruments onboard the spacecraft to monitor changes in the comet's surface and while they do not anticipate that the borderlines they have identified for the different regions of the comet to change dramatically, subtle changes in the surface could help provide an explanation on how cometary activity formed the topographically diverse world.

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