A patch of relatively smooth ground on the nucleus surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko appears in this image taken by the navigation camera on the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft during the second half of October 2014. The spacecraft has been orbiting this comet since August 2014 and will release its lander, Philae, on November 12 to land on the comet's nucleus.
This image was taken from a distance of less than six miles (10 kilometers) from the surface. It is one of a series of images from Rosetta's navigation camera showing the varied and dramatic terrain of the nucleus. Some light contrast enhancements have been made to emphasize certain features and to bring out features in the shadowed areas. In reality, the comet is extremely dark - blacker than coal. The images, taken in black-and-white, are grey-scaled according to the relative brightness of the features observed, which depends on local illumination conditions, surface characteristics and composition of the given area.
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/NAVCAM
Note: For more information, see PIA18867: Jagged Horizon on Rosetta's Destination Comet and PIA18869: Rough Terrain on Rosetta's Destination Comet.