On 14 February 2015, the Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) on the Rosetta spacecraft observed the surface of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko with the Sun directly behind it, so the only shadow seen in the image is that of the photographer, the orbiter itself.
It is only a few more days until the Dawn spacecraft enters orbit around Ceres on 6 March 2015, marking humankind's first visit to a dwarf planet. What Ceres has disclosed to scientists so far has raised more questions than it has provided answers.
This image of the dwarf planet Ceres was acquired on 19 February 2015 by the German-built Framing Camera on board the NASA orbiter Dawn from a distance of just under 46,000 kilometres. There are several unusual bright patches on the surface of Ceres.
Only 46,000 kilometres separated the Dawn spacecraft from its destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, when its German-built Framing Camera acquired the latest images on 19 February 2015. One of the most striking features of Ceres is the multitude of different crater shapes across its surface; in addition to numerous smaller, shallow craters, the images also reveal impact basins with large mountains located at their centres.
The mountain massif of Phlegra Montes extends into the northern lowlands of Mars like a long, slightly curved salient. Stretching for hundreds of kilometres, this alignment of numerous mountains, rolling hills and ridges lies to the east of the volcano Hecates Tholus in the Elysium volcanic region.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko could lose up to 20 metres of surface material from its previously unilluminated south side when it heats up, starting in May 2015. The increasing heat as the comet approaches the Sun will trigger this 'diet', during which gases and solid materials will be ejected into space.
The Lander Control Center (LCC) at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is quiet. While the Philae lander is hibernating on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the control room team are able to take a break. Philae' s battery finally ran out at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014, following a triple landing and more than 56 hours of scientific work.
Planetary scientists have never seen dwarf planet Ceres from this close up. The German-developed Framing Camera on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft acquired this image on 25 January 2015 from a distance of just 237,000 kilometres.
Nili Fossae caught the attention of astronomers in the last century, when Mars could only be observed from Earth with ground-based telescopes. The grabens of Nili Fossae extend for several hundred kilometres along the eastern edge of the giant impact basin Isidis Planitia and, together with the volcanic region Syrtis Major, they form a concentric pattern that runs parallel to the edge of the basin.
It is still early days for the scientists involved in evaluating data that the 21 instruments on board the Rosetta spacecraft and its Philae lander have transmitted back to Earth. But preliminary results from seven of the 11 instruments on the Rosetta orbiter have been published in a special edition of the journal Science.
Planetary scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) may find a thick ice crust with an ocean underneath when the NASA Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in March 2015. Even now, from a distance of 383,000 kilometres, the first surface features are visible.
It follows an elliptical orbit around Mars, undisturbed, almost lonely – the orbiter Mars Express. For 11 years now – to be precise since Christmas Eve 2003 – the first and, for some time now, European Space Agency longest-serving interplanetary mission has been travelling around our planetary neighbour.
With a diameter of nearly 1000 kilometres, it was the largest known asteroid – and yet Ceres, which was 'promoted' from asteroid to dwarf planet in 2006, is just nine pixels wide in the image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on 1 December 2014.
Philae landed on a comet just three weeks ago; now, another German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) lander mission has been launched – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is already on its way to Asteroid 1999 JU3.
Originally scheduled for launch at 05:24 CET on 30 November 2014, the MASCOT asteroid lander will now set off from Tanegashima Space Center on board the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) orbiter Hayabusa 2 no earlier than 1 December, destined for asteroid 1999 JU3.
These images, acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, show a part of the Hellas Planitia impact basin illuminated in warm bronze and golden hues. The camera is operated by DLR and is being used to systematically image the surface of the Red Planet in 3D and in colour for the first time.
Shelves of ice, hundreds of metres thick, breaking into thousands of small icebergs that melt away in just a few days. This is not a scene from a disaster movie, but actually happened in the Antarctic in 1995 and 2002.
Just three kilometres from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the ROsetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) acquired images of the 'head' and underlying 'body' of Comet 67P. Immediately below is the planned landing site, Agilkia; in the top right of the field of view, one of the landing gear feet can be seen as the camera on the underside of the lander approaches the comet's surface at walking pace.
The MUPUS instrument, one of 10 experiments on the Philae lander that touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko encountered very hard material with a temperature of about minus 170 degrees Celsius – probably rich in ice.
How long does it take for a star to be born? To date, only this much has been clear: longer than there have been humans on Earth with the technology to observe it. But the precise age of a star-forming cloud has now been determined by a team under the leadership of scientists at the University of Cologne using the GREAT spectrometer on board the SOFIA airborne observatory.