An Astronomical ‘Selfie’ from an Ambitious Project
A few weeks ago, the robotic Rosetta spacecraft of the European Space Agency went into orbit around a comet. Its orbit takes it within 16 kilometers of the comet's surface, which is when this photo was snapped from an on-board camera.
You can see the peanut-shaped Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the top of the photo. The visible solar panel is part of the main Rosetta craft. On November 12, the Rosetta will detatch a lander called Philae, which will attempt to land on the comet (first time that's ever been done). Engineers decided on the landing site this week.
By the way, this is happening about 472 million kilometers from Earth as the comet zooms through the Solar System.
The Philae lander will take another photo of Rosetta as it heads toward the comet, and scientists are hoping for good data once it lands, too.
Now, the "gee, whiz" part of the story. They launched Rosetta TEN years ago in 2004 and it was even put in "deep space hybernation" for three years from 2011 until August of this year on its journey to rendezvous with Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The spacecraft will accompany the comet as it passes by the Sun in the coming months and does the usual comet thing of producing a tail and spewing material off its surface.
If you're interested in this little spacecraft, check out the ESA Rosetta website.