This animated sequence combines 36 interpolated images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, each separated by 20 minutes. This comet is the destination for the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, which includes three NASA instruments in its 21-instrument science payload. The images were obtained by the spacecraft's Onboard Scientific Imaging System (OSIRIS) on July 14, 2014 from a distance of approximately 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers).
Launched in 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft includes an orbiter and lander. The mission's objectives upon arrival at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014 are to study the celestial object up close in unprecedented detail, prepare for landing a probe on the comet's nucleus in November, and track its changes as it sweeps past the sun.
Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the sun and its planets formed. Rosetta's lander will obtain the first images taken from a comet's surface and will provide the first analysis of a comet's composition by drilling into the surface. Rosetta also will be the first spacecraft to witness at close proximity how a comet changes as it is subjected to the increasing intensity of the sun's radiation. Observations will help scientists learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and the role comets may have played in seeding Earth with water, and perhaps even life.
Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Note: For more information, see PIA18402: Rosetta Mission's Destination: Comet 67P/Churnyumov-Gerasimenko, Comet on 14 July 2014 – Processed View, The Dual Personality of Comet 67P/C-G, Rosetta Spacecraft Approaching Twofold Comet, and Rosetta Comet May Be a Contact Binary.
For earlier stories, see Rosetta Closing in on Comet, The Three Faces of Rosetta's Comet, Rosetta's Comet: Expect the Unexpected, How Big is Rosetta Compared to the Comet?, Comet on 4 July 2014, and Are We There Yet?