Around seven months after the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe made history by deploying its Philae lander onto the surface 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, an expansive catalogue of images has been released providing an up-close look at the comet's rugged landscape. The photos were snapped by Rosetta's NavCam between September and November last year, as the spacecraft came as close as 8 km (5 mi) from the surface.
The image library published online last week totals 1,776 photos. These were taken as the Philae lander plunged toward to comet's surface and in the days immediately after.
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This wouldn't be the Rosetta spacecraft's closest encounter with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with a flyby in February bringing it as close as 6 km (3.7 mi) to the surface, where it grabbed images of the Imhotep region, revealing huge rocks and jagged landscapes broken up by flatter areas covered in dust.
The swathe of new images offers a look at the terrain from innumerable new angles, presenting harsh cliff edges cutting into the blackness of space, large boulders and rolling rocky hills that fade into smooth, dusty plains. The collection paints a rather eerie picture of this far away alien landscape.
Rosetta departed from Earth in 2004 and entered orbit around 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last August. This journey included three flybys of Earth and one of Mars, before heading out past Jupiter and picking up enough speed to catch up to the comet. On November 12 last year, its Philae lander touched down, making history as the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on a comet's surface.
Unfortunately a landing malfunction brought the probe down where sunlight couldn't reach its solar panels to provide power, leaving both the spacecraft and mission control in the dark once its battery's were exhausted. Attempts to re-establish contact with the lander have been unsuccessful, though the ESA holds hopes that as it comes closer to the Sun it will be able to draw enough solar power to boot up again and continue its exploration of the comet.
In the meantime, you can have a flick through the gallery to acquaint yourself with Philae's haunting new home.
Source: ESAView gallery - 52 images