Every time I see a new image of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet, I just get lost searching through all the detail, marveling at the variation of textures, and mostly watching in awe thinking about the chain of events that took the spaceship Rosetta to where it is today, 804.6 million kilometres from Earth.
In the image, the comet’s head (in the top half of the image) exhibits parallel linear features that resemble cliffs, and its neck displays scattered boulders on a relatively smooth, slumping surface. In comparison, the comet’s body (lower half of the image) seems to exhibit a multi-variable terrain with peaks and valleys, and both smooth and rough topographic features.
Think about the process to get to this point. First some humans decided to build a little machine with some cameras, instrumentation, and a daughter spacecraft. Then they put it on top of a rocket that launched on 2 March, 2004. After a few orbits, the probe used our planet’s gravity to reach Mars, then got back to Earth, then it kept slingshotting from asteroid to asteroid to Earth in a precise, beautiful cosmic game of billiards until it entered hibernation on 8 June, 2011, en route to this comet.
On January it woke up (a technological miracle on itself), positioned itself to talk to its creators, started to take photos of its target, and arrived to the comet at the beginning of this month, establishing an orbit around it. And to top this amazing journey, it will send a lander (A LANDER!) to its surface on 11 November, 2014. All of this on its own, thanks to the genius of a small team of really smart people.
Here’s the 3D version of the image above: