2014 Comet Sighting: European Southern Observatory Released First Image of the ESA Rosetta Spacecraft Target Comet, 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko

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By Jenalyn Villamarin | March 13, 2014 3:00 PM EST

The European Space Agency (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft officially returned from its 31-month hibernation last January to resume its comet-chasing mission. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko recently re-surfaced from the behind the Sun and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released the first image captured on Rosetta's target comet. 

ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile captured the comet's beginning activity on February 28, 2014. "The left image shows the comet amidst background star trails - the comet itself is actually overlaid onto a star trail - and the right image has had the trails subtracted and the enhanced comet exposures stacked onto a single spot," the Space.com report on the captured images read. Click HERE to see photo.

The images shared are the VLT's first observations on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since October 2013. The follow-up photo showed that the 4 km-wide comet's brightness has increased by approximately 50 percent.

The increase in brightness signifies that the comet's surface ices could have started sublimating into space. The Rosetta spacecraft and its Philae lander will make contact with the comet this May and then enter the orbit around the comet in August.

The Philae is also scheduled to land on the comet's nucleus in November to conduct scientific observations as the comet makes its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015. "Rosetta will be the first mission ever to orbit a comet's nucleus and land a probe on its surface. It will also be the first spacecraft to fly alongside a comet as it heads towards the inner solar system, watching how a frozen comet is transformed by the warmth of the sun," the Space.com report further noted.

In the Planetary.org report, the ESA's recent status update in the Rosetta blog revealed that the probe will get hold of its first images on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko later this March. The Rosetta's activities in order to observe the comet are scheduled on March 17, Monday, where the OSIRIS imaging system and all other instruments gets switched on and March 24 where the OSIRIS takes its first look in the direction of the comet.

"The comet will be too far away (around 5 million kilometres) to resolve in these first images and its light will be seen in just a couple of pixels. These images will be acquired regularly for navigation purposes and to already start planning the trajectory corrections planned for May," the blog on Rosetta's activities reads. The blog further revealed that the Rosetta's NavCam imaging for operational purposes will begin in May together with OSIRIS after it has been briefly turned on for a check-out.

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