On Friday, NASA released what they call a “big picture” view of comet 67P, the comet that now is the graveyard for the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope was able to provide fantastic imagery of the comet hurtling through space from a 30-hour period between the 17th and 18th of September. At the time, the comet was unobservable for Earth-based telescopes as it was only in the sky during the day.
The imagery taken by the Kepler space telescope provides useful data about how much mass the comet is shedding every day, as it flies through the Solar System on its 6.5-year-long orbit around the Sun. This data nicely complements what has already been collected by the Rosetta spacecraft over the past two years.
On September 30, the Rosetta spacecraft, which arrived at comet 67P in August 2014, made a slow, measured descent down to the comet’s surface to bring an end to the historic mission. The descent provided one final opportunity to study the comet’s gaseous, dusty environment up close. The spacecraft was able to send back valuable data just before it came to a rest on the icy comet.
The Rosetta mission to comet 67P has been a resounding success. Despite the failed landing of the Philae lander rendering it unable to provide data from the comet’s surface, the Rosetta spacecraft maintained a constant stream of data back to Earth for a full two years. Among its greatest discoveries was the detection of the amino acid glycine and phosphorous, the building blocks of DNA and cell membranes, in the coma of 67P.