by Alex Autin


Rosetta: Once Upon A Time…

…there was a spacecraft called Rosetta. Rosetta had been traveling in space for 10 years, towards a comet called 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In time, Rosetta was able to see the comet in the distance, there was only a little way to go now…

Launched in March 2004, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft is just two weeks away from its August 6 rendezvous with the comet she’s been chasing for a decade. In the past ten years, Rosetta has traveled more than six billion kilometers, passing Earth three times (2005, 2007, 2009) and Mars once…

Stunning_image_of_Rosetta_above_Mars_taken_by_the_Philae_lander_cameraIn 2007, Rosetta took this incredible selfie while over Mars. (This HAS to be the mother of all selfies!) The image was taken by the CIVA imaging instrument on Rosetta’s Philae lander at a distance of some 1000 km from Mars, and shows the Mawrth Vallis region on the red planet’s disk. WOW! Image Credit: CIVA / Philae / ESA Rosetta

Along the way, Rosetta also flew past two asteroids…

Asteroid Steins


Anaglyph image of Steins, taken around the time of Rosetta’s closest approach to Steins in September 2008. Image Credit: OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

…and Asteriod Lutetia.


Lutetia at closest approach, 2010. Image Credit: OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

For 31 months, while the spacecraft traveled out to the orbit of Jupiter, Rosetta was put into deep-space hibernation. In January 2014, still about 9 million km from the comet, as her human team back here on Earth held their collective breaths, Rosetta’s pre-programmed internal alarm clock attempted to wake up the spacecraft….it was at this moment the team would learn if Rosetta was alive…or dead…

Rosetta Phones Home!

Rosetta Phones Home! Mission controllers at ESA’s Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany cheer the first signal received from the Rosetta spacecraft on January 20, 2014.

Now, with less than 10,000 km to go, Rosetta is preparing to arrive at its destination – Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko!

As exciting as this mission has been so far (and it’s been hellofa exciting!) now comes the REALLY exciting stuff! Once rendezvoused with the comet on August 6, Rosetta’s orbiter will remain in close proximity to the comet’s icy nucleus as they both plunge towards the Sun. Then in November 2014, Rosetta’s small Philae lander will be released onto the cosmic iceberg’s surface, hitching one hell of a ride.

This will be the first time landing on a comet has ever been attempted! Given the almost negligible gravity of the comet’s 4 km-wide nucleus, Rosetta’s lander/probe will dock using ice screws and harpoons to stop it from rebounding back into space.

ESA's Rosetta to hitch a ride on a comet.

ESA’s Rosetta hitching a ride on a comet. Illustration Credit: ESA

Comet harpooning?!! Hell, yes! Philae is expected to send back panoramic and high-resolution pictures of the comet’s surface, and will also perform analysis of the composition of the ices and organic material. The minimum targeted mission time for Philae is one week, but surface operations could continue for months.

The comet, escorted by Rosetta, will reach perihelion, or its closest distance to the sun, on August 13, 2015.  While hurtling sun-wards through the inner solar system at about 100,000 km per hour, the orbiter will analyze dust and gas samples while monitoring the ever-changing conditions on the surface as the comet warms up and its ices sublimate.

And as for the target comet?? Rosetta continues to get closer…and closer…


Rotating view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged July 14, 2014 by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, from a distance of approximately 12, 000 km. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Go Rosetta, go!!

Images Of The Week (W29-14)

Dry Ice Gullies…On Mars!


This image, captured by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, covers a location on The Red Plant which has been imaged a number of times. Changes seen in many gullies show a rapidly evolving landform. The timing of the changes is often in winter or early spring suggesting to scientists that they are caused by carbon dioxide (commonly called dry ice in its solid state) frost forming in and around most gullies every year. Frozen carbon dioxide, aka dry ice, does not exist naturally on Earth, but is heaps plentiful on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona


WTF Is It??!


It is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as imaged on July14 by OSIRIS, the scientific imaging system onboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft – which happens to be chasing this comet and, after catching up with the icy rock, will then attempt to harpoon, land, and hitch a ride! The pixelated image was taken from a distance of approximately 12,000 km and suggests that the comet may consist of two parts – known as ‘contact binary’. (One elongated part of the comet appears stuck to a smaller bulbous piece, possibly the result of a sticky collision, possibly an oddly shaped fragmentation – or something else entirely!) Wow! This mission just gets more and more interesting! Rosetta is scheduled to rendezvous with 67P in a few weeks, and will attempt to hitch a ride in November as the comet plunges towards the Sun. The comet’s perihelion, or closest approach to our star, hopefully with Rosetta’s Philae lander firmly attached, will take place on August 13, 2015 (my birthday!). Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA


Is This For Real??


Yep, apparently it is! This heart-shaped phenomenon, as featured on, was captured on July 13 by sharp-eyed Tony DeFreece while flying over Oregon. Known as a Glory, the shimmering rings are caused by sunlight reflected backwards from individual water droplets in clouds. Glories can be seen on mountains and hillsides, from aircraft (such as Mr DeFreece’s glory), in sea fog and even indoors. While glories are usually circular in shape, DeFreece suspects, and SpaceWeather agrees, that the shape of the clouds bent the usual circular glory into the heart-shaped apparition he captured from the plane. Image Credit: Tony DeFreece/


Jenny From The Block???


In the ‘I-shit-you-not’ department, Scientists in Bajo de Sico, a mesophotic coral reef ecosystem in Mona Passage off Puerto Rico, have discovered a new species of pontarachnid mite (pictured above), and named it Litarachna lopezae after Puerto Rican singer Jennifer Lopez. I have nothing more to say about this…. Image credit: Pešić V et al.



Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

German attacking midfielder, and all-around cutie, Mario Götze (left) celebrates after scoring the goal which won the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Götze, who came on as a substitute, scored the winning goal in the 113th minute of the final against Argentina propelling Germany to its fourth World Cup title. Congratulations to Germany on its win, as well as impressive play throughout the cup, and congrats to host-country Brazil for presenting a brilliant and completely exciting World Cup. Well done! Also well done, congratulations to Colombian James Rodriguez on his, much deserved, Golden Boot award as the tournament’s top goalscorer. Image Credit:

Crepuscular Rays


Crepuscular Rays are rays of sunlight which appear to radiate from the point in the sky where the Sun is located.

Most of us have seen these awesome columns of sunlit air as they stream through gaps in clouds, or sometimes between other objects such as trees or buildings.  The cool ‘columns of sunlight’ effect is created by light being separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. The REALLY interesting thing about these rays is that though they seem to converge at a point, they are actually near-parallel shafts of sunlight. The convergence is just a perspective effect, an illusion! And how cool is that?!


Crepuscular rays most often occur during the hours around dawn and dusk, aka the crepuscular, or twilight, hours. It’s during these hours that the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious.




Crepuscular rays can make for some very cool, and very dramatic, photography. But you shouldn’t take my lame attempts at capturing them as prime examples. A google search should lead you to some incredible work by actual photographers, using proper equipment. ;)

All images taken in Queensland, Australia, by Alex Autin. Clicking on an image will present a larger view.


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