The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The latest picture of Rosetta’s comet is truly breathtaking

An enhanced image taken by Rosetta. (European Space Agency/Rosetta/NavCam)
Placeholder while article actions load

We started Friday with beautiful space pictures, and so shall we end it. Above, you can see comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in a whole new (gorgeous) light. The comet is famous for being the landing site of the intrepid Philae lander, which died before its time. But the Rosetta orbiter that dropped little Philae to the surface is still going strong.

Rosetta took the photo from 200 miles away. The orbiter was on the outward leg of a 600 mile-or-so journey away from the comet and back again. Comets are mostly made of ice, and they give off varying amounts of gas and dust depending on how warm they are. Rosetta was taking a quick jaunt away from its orbit to see what those gases might look like at the edge of their reach.

Comet Lovejoy pretty much spews sugar and booze, study finds

Scientists are interested in studying comets like 67P because they were probably formed at the very start of our solar system's history. Their icy hearts contain the molecules that were around at that time, so studying the composition of that ice — either by touching down on the surface, as Philae did, or by analyzing it as it sublimates, as Rosetta does — can tell us what materials were available when the planets were just starting to form.

The image looks so striking because the sun, the comet and the orbiter were almost perfectly aligned. The resulting backlit effect shows off that aforementioned environment of gas and dust. And boy, is it gorgeous.

Rosetta comet landing makes history

Share
epa04493417 A handout mosaic picture provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) on 17 November 2014 shows (L-R) Rosetta's Philae lander descending towards and across the comet before first touchdown, on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, 12 November 2014. The pictures by Rosetta's OSIRIS camera were taken within a period of 30 minutes, the time of each image is indicated in the picture in GMT. Philae touched down in an awkward landing when two harpoons that were meant to tether it to the comet's surface failed to fire, causing the lander to bounce twice before settling into a stable position. The exact final location of the lander is not known yet, according to ESA. EPA/ROSETTA/MPS/OSIRIS/ESA/HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES (Rosetta/Mps/Osiris/Esa/Handout/EPA)

Read More:

Are Saturn’s rings (and moons) younger than the dinosaurs?

Gaze into the heart of the Milky Way in the Hubble’s latest image

Scientists suggest a new, earth-shaking twist on the demise of the dinosaurs

Scientists have a wild idea for hiding us from evil aliens

Amateur astronomers captured footage of a space rock crashing into Jupiter

The hunt for extraterrestrials turns to the ‘dim bulbs of the universe’

Loading...