Perihelion Passage Captured by Rosetta

Rosetta captured comet 67P in all its glory this past week, as it reached perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun.  This marks the point where the comet feels the most solar energy, resulting in streams of gas and dust shooting from the nucleus.  Rosetta captured a series of images to show the brilliance of the comet.

Sequence of OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images from 12 August 2015, just a few hours before the comet reached perihelion. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

It’s been just over a year since Rosetta first injected itself into orbit around 67P on August 6th, 2014, and it has been hitching a ride around the Sun with the comet ever since, collecting amazing science data and observing the comet through its seasonal changes.

Now at perihelion, the comet is releasing about a thousand times more gas, dust, and water vapour than it did a year ago when Rosetta entered orbit.  Every second, it is spewing out 300 Kg of water vapour now that the Sun is heating the surface with a higher intensity.

There is a danger to Rosetta too, as 67P spurts out 1000 Kg of dust.  The instruments are susceptible to damage from those tiny bits of dust, and so the orbiter has to maintain its distance if it hopes to continue science operations in the future.

And the future is bright for Rosetta, with a recent 9 month mission extension and a historic landing on the comet planned, creating a huge challenge for mission engineers.  As we continue to receive new science data from Rosetta and lander Philae, we will continue to piece together a newly deepened understanding of how a comet behaves during its orbit.


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