OSIRIS Team Releases Nearly 70,000 Images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Between 2014 and 2016, the OSIRIS (Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System) camera onboard ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft captured almost 70,000 images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Now the OSIRIS team has put all of these images online on a dedicated website — the OSIRIS Image Viewer.

These 210 images reflect Rosetta’s ever-changing view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between July 2014 and September 2016. The sequence begins in the month leading up to Rosetta’s arrival on August 6, 2014, when the comet was barely a few pixels in the field of view. Suddenly, the curious shape was revealed and Rosetta raced to image its surface, coming within 10 km, to find a suitable place for Philae to land just three months later. Philae’s landing is featured with the ‘farewell’ images taken by both spacecraft of each other shortly after separation, and by Philae as it drew closer to the surface at its first touchdown point. An image taken at the final landing site is also shown. The subsequent images, taken by Rosetta, reflect the varying distance from the comet as well as the comet’s rise and fall in activity as they orbited the Sun. Before the comet reached its most active phase in August 2015, Rosetta was able to make some close flybys, including one in which the lighting geometry from the Sun was such that the spacecraft’s shadow could be seen on the surface. Then, owing to the increase of dust in the local environment, Rosetta had to maintain a safer distance and carry out scientific observations from afar, but this also gave some impressive views of the comet’s global activity, including jets and outburst events. Once the activity began to subside, Rosetta could come closer again and conduct science nearer to the nucleus, including capturing more high-resolution images of the surface, and looking out for changes after this active period. Eventually, as the comet returned to the colder outer Solar System, so the available solar power to operate Rosetta fell. The mission concluded with Rosetta making its own dramatic descent to the surface on September 30, 2016. A selection of the final images taken are reflected in the last images shown in this montage. Image credit: ESA / Rosetta / NavCam / MPS for OSIRIS Team / MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA / Philae / CIVA / ROLIS / DLR.

These 210 images reflect Rosetta’s ever-changing view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between July 2014 and September 2016. The sequence begins in the month leading up to Rosetta’s arrival on August 6, 2014, when the comet was barely a few pixels in the field of view. Suddenly, the curious shape was revealed and Rosetta raced to image its surface, coming within 10 km, to find a suitable place for Philae to land just three months later. Philae’s landing is featured with the ‘farewell’ images taken by both spacecraft of each other shortly after separation, and by Philae as it drew closer to the surface at its first touchdown point. An image taken at the final landing site is also shown. The subsequent images, taken by Rosetta, reflect the varying distance from the comet as well as the comet’s rise and fall in activity as they orbited the Sun. Before the comet reached its most active phase in August 2015, Rosetta was able to make some close flybys, including one in which the lighting geometry from the Sun was such that the spacecraft’s shadow could be seen on the surface. Then, owing to the increase of dust in the local environment, Rosetta had to maintain a safer distance and carry out scientific observations from afar, but this also gave some impressive views of the comet’s global activity, including jets and outburst events. Once the activity began to subside, Rosetta could come closer again and conduct science nearer to the nucleus, including capturing more high-resolution images of the surface, and looking out for changes after this active period. Eventually, as the comet returned to the colder outer Solar System, so the available solar power to operate Rosetta fell. The mission concluded with Rosetta making its own dramatic descent to the surface on September 30, 2016. A selection of the final images taken are reflected in the last images shown in this montage. Image credit: ESA / Rosetta / NavCam / MPS for OSIRIS Team / MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA / Philae / CIVA / ROLIS / DLR.

The OSIRIS was the main imaging system of ESA’s Rosetta mission. It consisted of two cameras, one narrow-angle and one wide-angle. The narrow-angle camera observed the nucleus of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, while the wide-angle camera was optimized for mapping the gas and dust in space in the vicinity of the comet.

“The first view of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was captured by OSIRIS in March 2014 from a distance of almost 5 million km: an unspectacular starry sky in which only experts can identify one of the numerous bright spots as the target of the Rosetta mission,” the OSIRIS team members said.

“The mission’s last snapshot was taken on September 30, 2016, just a few minutes before the spacecraft touched down on the comet.”

“Between these two images lies an adventure: a space mission that for the first time accompanied a comet on its way through the inner solar system and observed it from close up.”

“This adventure can now be retraced in detail with the help of the OSIRIS Image Viewer.”

Browsing through the archive, users will find snapshots taken while Rosetta was still approaching the already awakening comet, images obtained from Philae’s landing, the fireworks of dust and gas emissions during the comet’s perihelion passage, and pictures documenting the feverish search for Philae’s landing site during the mission’s final weeks.

The images show rugged cliffs, bizarre cracks and gorges, powdery-smooth plains and boulder-covered fields as well as spectacular jets of dust and gas in the vicinity of the comet’s nucleus.

“It is important to us that this treasure trove of data is easily accessible to everyone. No prior knowledge is necessary,” said OSIRIS principal investigator Dr. Holger Sierks, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany.

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