Final destination: Comet 67P – The Rosetta mission and 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko

Comet 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko is a celestial object coming from the Kuiper-Edgeworth Belt, a ring-shaped region in the Solar System located beyond the orbit of Neptune. 67P orbits the Sun along an elliptical path between Earth and Jupiter, and is therefore considered to be a member of the Jupiter family.

The Hubble Space Telescope delivered the first images of the comet nucleus during observations conducted on 12 March 2003 in preparation for the Rosetta mission. The pictures revealed an oval-shaped celestial body measuring three by five kilometres. Its rotation period was determined to be between 12.4 and 12.9 hours, and its mean diameter was identified as roughly four kilometres. One orbit around the Sun is a 6.45-year journey for the comet. Darker than coal, the density of the comet's surface material is comparable with that of a sponge. Images from the OSIRIS camera on board Rosetta, which were acquired at a distance of 14,000 kilometres, show that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko consists of two clearly distinguishable parts. The two components probably collided with one another at low speed during the development of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago and stuck together.

A turbulent story

Jupiter's gravitational pull has caused the comet's orbit to change radically over the last 200 years. Until 1840, its perihelion distance (the point along its orbit closest to the Sun) was found to be four Astronomical Units (AU), or four times the distance between Earth and the Sun (in total just less than 150 million kilometres). But a close sweep around Jupiter reduced its perihelion distance, which until 1959 was 2.7 AU. A further Jupiter flyby in February 1959 cut the perihelion once more to its current value; its shortest distance to the Sun is 186 million kilometres (1.24 AU), while its farthest (aphelion) is 857 million kilometres (5.68 AU). Estimates suggest that during its perihelion passage in 2002, 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko released 60 kilograms of dust into space every second, while calculations for the turn of the year 1982/83 indicate quantities of up to 220 kilograms per second.

Last modified: 05/08/2014 13:05:33

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Dr.rer.nat. Ekkehard Kührt
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Institute of Planetary Research, Asteroids and Comets

Tel.: +49 30 67055-514

Fax: +49 30 67055-340
Dr Stephan Ulamec
German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Microgravity User Support Center (MUSC), Space Operations and Astronaut Training

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Elke Heinemann
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) - German Aerospace Center

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Jet streams on Churyumov-Gerasimenko


A prominent jet, together with gas an dust outflows are visible in this four-image mosaic, created from images acquired by Rosetta's Navigation Camera NAVCAM on 31 January 2015. The comet’s activity will increase as it approaches the Sun. Model calculations show that the northern section can expect to lose a few metres of surface throughout the orbit, while the southern part will lose up to 20 metres.

Comet on 16 January 2015

Comet on 16 January 2015

This four-image mosaic comprises Rosetta navigation camera images taken from a distance of 28.4 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 16 January. The image resolution is 2.4 m/pixel and the individual 1024 x 1024 frames measure about 2.5 km across. The mosaic measures 4.5 x 4.2 km.

Comet on 14 February 2015 from 8.7 km

Comet on 14 February 2015 from 8.7 km

On 14 February 2015, Rosetta swooped over the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko at a distance of just 6 km. The closest approach took place at 12:41 GMT over a region known as Imhotep, which is on the larger of the comet’s two lobes. The image presented here was taken with the navigation camera shortly after closest approach, at 14:19 GMT, from a distance of 8.7 km. It has a scale of 0.74 m/pixel and measures 0.76 km across.

Comet wide-angle view

Comet wide%2dangle view

Wide-angle view of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken by OSIRIS on 12 September 2014.

Comet on 7 August 2014

Comet on 7 August 2014

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on 7 August 2014 from a distance of about 83 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

New Model of the comet's shape

Neues Modell der Kometenform

A new model of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's shape, based on the images acquired with the OSIRIS camera on 14 July 2014.

Close-up of the comet

Nahaufnahme vom Kometen

This close-up view shows a flat region at the bottom of the ‘body’ of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was acquired with Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera and downloaded on 6 August. The image clearly shows a number of features such as rocks, craters and steep cliffs.

Images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko


These 36 images were acquired by the OSIRIS camera on the Rosetta spacecraft on 14 July 2014 at intervals of 20 minutes. The images have been processed to smooth the still pixelated view. Nevertheless, the recordings give a first impression of what the Rosetta Lander, Philae, will encounter at its destination.

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