Rosetta Spacecraft Takes Shadow Selfie on Comet

Space probe's shadow is visible on icy comet it has been orbiting.

ByALYSSA NEWCOMB
March 03, 2015, 4:17 PM
PHOTO: Close-up view of a region on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as seen by the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera during Rosetta’s flyby, Feb. 14, 2015.
Close-up view of a region on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as seen by the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera during Rosetta’s flyby, Feb. 14, 2015.
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

— -- The Rosetta spacecraft was able to snap the most detailed image ever of Comet 67P -- getting so close that the spacecraft cast a shadow that can be seen in a photo sent back to Earth.

A photo snapped on Valentine's Day released today by the European Space Agency, was taken less than four miles from the surface of the icy comet and packs a resolution of about four and one-third inches per pixel.

At the bottom of the image is a fuzzy rectangular shadow cast by Rosetta, which was made possible by the sun being aligned directly behind the spacecraft, according to the ESA.

The shadow is blurry because the sun was not a point source, meaning that if a person were to stand on the frigid comet and look toward the sun, the boxy spacecraft would only block part of the giant star.

The comet is expected to reach perihelion -- its closest point to the sun -- on August 13.

The spacecraft made history in November when it sent its Philae lander to the surface of 67P, a comet that is whizzing through space at speeds as fast as 80,000 miles per hour.

Scientists are studying Rosetta's environment to learn more about the rubber-duck shaped comet, which could yield new insights about the origins of comets, stars and planets. It has been conducting a series of flybys from various distances to collect information for analysis.

Working nearly 300 million miles from Earth, a one-way signal from Rosetta takes around 26 minutes and 46 seconds to reach Earth, according to a Twitter account the ESA set up for the mission.

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