One of my favorite images I think I have ever seen from space was released the other day – not only does this photograph have amazing scientific awe it also has great artistic composition. Here it is:
This is comet 67P which was captured by the Rosetta spacecraft perfectly back-lit by the sun. Rosetta is going to study the comet until September, at which point the craft will touch down on the comet and study as much as possible before the mission comes to a close. Many of the probes that go into space end their lives unceremoniously in this way. The crafts study everything they can from a reasonable distance, then when they have gathered all they can they touch down getting the information that can only be gleaned from the surface. The impact means they are not able to last much longer, since these light little craft are not equip with sophisticated landing technology. Quite incredibly the comet and the probe are now moving away from the sun at the dizzy rate of 20km a second.
I read that the team do have the option of putting the probe to sleep, as it will loose power as distance from the sun increases – however this wasn’t deemed the right way for the probe to go. The comet orbits the inner solar system every 6.5 years, and obtaining close up imaginary in a hard landing was seen to be the preferred option.