The highest resolution image yet taken of Comet 67P by the Rosetta satellite has just been released. It was acquired during the Valentine’s Day flyby when the European Space Agency probe passed just 6km from the surface of the “icy dirtball”. The view, which shows the detail in features down to 11cm, is of a region on the bottom of the “space duck”.
With the Sun directly behind Rosetta, it is just possible to see a shadow of the satellite itself on the surface. “I like it because you get this nice juxtaposition of Rosetta against the alien landscape,” said Dr Matt Taylor, the mission’s project scientist. The precise location of the image has been worked out to be on the boundary of two regions known as Imhotep and Ash. The comet’s surface has 19 regions named after Ancient Egyptian deities.
67P is now getting more and more active as it moves closer to the Sun, meaning it is no longer possible for the European probe to work continuously at close-quarters, as was the case through the back end of last year. The stream of gas and dust coming away from the comet produces drag on the spacecraft, complicating the job of the controllers who must drive Rosetta through space. The plan instead is to sit back from 67P and make the occasional close-in approach. The 14 February pass was just such a manoeuvre.It swept Rosetta in over the larger of the two lobes that make up the rubber duck-shaped comet. Edited from Rosetta catches its own shadow.