National Geographic

Incredible Photos From Spacecraft’s 4 Billion-Mile Journey

Last week, a small spacecraft named Rosetta caught up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Their rendezvous took place between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and marked the end of a 10-year, 4 billion-mile chase.

The journey took Rosetta along a tortuous, dizzying path as it traveled from Earth to its faraway, 2.5-mile wide target. Looping around Earth and Mars several times, the European Space Agency’s probe gathered gravity assists that would help sling it to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Now about 62 miles (100 km) from the two-lobed object, the spacecraft is sending detailed images of the comet’s surface. Over the next six weeks, it will descend to a point just 18 miles (30 km) above the icy chunk; then sometime this fall, Rosetta will deploy a lander named Philae to a yet-to-be determined site on the comet’s surface.

Rosetta will remain in orbit around its comet through the next year, gathering data about these spectacular travelers that have fascinated and terrified Earthlings for millennia.

But the spacecraft wasn’t exactly sleeping as it raced to catch the comet with the really long and tough-to-pronounce name. As it swung around planets and brushed by asteroids, Rosetta was awake and shooting photos (browse through the images here). Some of those are in the gallery above, and are absolutely gorgeous. Among them are Mars, set against a glittering Milky Way backdrop, a crescent Earth with the south polar vortex just visible above Antarctica, and a new view of the moon.

And below, I’ve included a recent image taken by Rosetta of its home for the next year.

Rosetta's target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, seen on August 12 from about 60 miles away. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Rosetta’s target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, seen on August 12 from about 60 miles away. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

There are 12 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Dwayne LaGrou
    August 15, 2014

    If I had any say in where I would put the lander I would park it between the two lobes near the area where it looks like a snow drift. I would think that that area is fairly protected and seems to have a lot of material available that is not contaminated with any other material. If we could only land a Human there, Then we could have made a Comet material Snowman!!!
    Ha Ha! Any other ideas on where it should land?!
    Thanks for a WONDERFUL article, Again.

  2. Mic
    August 19, 2014

    Amazing! More more more pictures please :)

  3. Valerie A Wagner
    August 20, 2014

    My heart soars! I just want my eyes to catch up:)

  4. Mahboob ali khan
    August 20, 2014


  5. valerie a wagner
    August 20, 2014

    Your fabulous—you make my eyes water. Thanks.

  6. John Earnshaw
    August 20, 2014

    Amazing achievement and stunning photos! I would love to know the ‘g’ value for this object. It must be a minute percentage of what we are used to for major natural space objects which would make the orbital velocity very slow indeed. Interesting.

  7. Doreen A Abell
    August 20, 2014

    Breathtaking! Thank you for your posted article and pictures!

  8. Joel Acosta
    August 20, 2014

    Es un viaje atraves del universo que despierta la imaginaci on. Gracias por el articulo publicado.

  9. Giuseppe Barba
    August 20, 2014

    Bellissime immagini
    Very nice images

  10. Christa D’Auria
    September 2, 2014

    I am thrilled to hear that Rosetta, the spacecraft saying–Hello to the Dog’s Bone comet-like asteroid in the long, deep space as we wave our hands to greet!!!

  11. Christa D’Auria
    September 2, 2014

    As I have seen the Hubble photos of Pluto in mud-like color; I have my theories to point-out that Pluto appears to have mountains and craters in dark and light brown in my mind.

  12. Kurt
    September 29, 2014

    Wow . . . 4,000,000,000 Miles from Earth which is over 1/2 hour that light/waves need to travel to reach earth.
    How is the manipulation of Rosetta in relation to the comet handled by the controllers on earth … ?

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