Here are Some of the Best Images of Rosetta’s Dance Around a Comet

RIP Philae

Rosetta made history in 2014 when it became the first, and so far only, craft to orbit a comet as it made its way towards the Sun. Not only did it provide a plethora of data about Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for researchers here on Earth, it also captured all of our imaginations, especially through its Twitter account. Plus, the craft carried the Philae lander, which became the first lander to touch down on a comet, though its mission was marked with tragedy and heartbreak as it slowly lost connection with its Earthly team. Rosetta’s mission is slated to end in September, so let’s take a look at some its best images thus far.

From Afar

This is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from about 98 kilometers (61 miles) away on April 26, 2015. From this distance you can see how one section of the comet actually hooks over the other, making something like a cave.

Hello, Nucleus

Captured on March 19, 2016, this extremely close picture was taken 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) above the comet’s nucleus, which is so close it looks like Rosetta is actually sitting on the surface. Before the Rosetta mission, a picture like this was impossible!

The Imhotep Region

Located on the comet’s larger ‘lobe,’ Rosetta managed to grab this pic of the Imhotep region on December 18, 2015. In the background, you can see some of the jets shooting off into the distance, but the details presented here are the true spectacle.


Though it looks like a single image, this is actually four different pictures stitched together to completely show off the comet’s lobes. The larger lobe, on the bottom, and the smaller, on top, were captured in November 2014 from a distance of 31.8 kilometers (24 miles) above the comet’s center. “This mosaic was relatively tricky to make, given the lack of features in some of the overlap regions and some rotation of the comet between images,” said ESA researchers.

Jets of Cometary Activity

One of the most recognizable things about comets are their tails, but we rarely (read: never) get to see them as close as we do in this picture that was captured by Rosetta on September 10, 2014. Besides the cometary activity, which takes center stage, you can see both of the comet’s lobes at each side.

Shine On

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko shines brightly in this July 2015 image from a distance of 170 kilometers (105 miles) away. While the image itself is breathtaking, almost immediately after it was taken the researchers noticed a significant drop in the comet’s magnetic field. “Between 15:16 GMT and 15:41 GMT, the RPC-MAG magnetometer on Rosetta detected a sudden drop in the magnetic field, indicating a magnetic-field free region, or diamagnetic cavity,” reports the team. This is an outstanding observation that greatly helped the team get a better understanding of comet activity.

Up Close and Personal

This mosaic, which combines two images from December 2014, show the comet’s surface with extremely high detail from a height of just 20 kilometers (12 miles). By piecing pictures together, researchers able to see more of the comet at one time and provide a level of detail that isn’t usually possible with a single image.

Hanging Out Near Imhotep

The scale of this image of the Imhotep region scales up to show the difference in topography. To capture it, researchers stitched together six different images taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera in August and September 2014.

The Full Picture

While many of Rosetta’s pictures are extremely close to the comet’s surface, this one allows us to see the whole object with its tail illuminated behind it. From this angle, which was captured on March 27, 2016, you can clearly see the two lobes that are connected by a small bridge. This image was taken from 329 kilometers (204 miles) above the nucleus.