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Rosetta’s amazing selfie with a comet: Here’s why it was taken

Rosetta's selfie at comet image was created by cameras on the lander Philae on September 7.
(ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA)

A spacecraft, a selfie and a comet. What could be better? This week the European Space Agency released what it calls “selfie at comet” — a picture of one of the Rosetta spacecraft’s 45-foot solar arrays with the rubber-duck shaped comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko illuminated in the background.

The spacecraft was about 30 miles from the comet when the two images that make up the picture you see above were taken.

The picture is not a true selfie in the technical sense. It was captured by microcameras on the Philae lander, a separate spacecraft that Rosetta has carried on a decade long journey through the solar system.

In November, the ESA plans to send Philae to the surface of the comet to land on a spot that will be announced next week.

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Philae is just 30 inches high and 3 feet across, but it is equipped with a suite of 10 instruments, including the Comet Infrared and Visible Analyzer (CIVA), which will give scientists an up close and personal look at the structures on the comet’s surface.

The “selfie” you see above was taken as scientists test Philae’s instruments before it will become the first lander to ride a comet. If all goes well, the same cameras used to make this picture will create 360-degree panoramas from the comet’s surface.

For those who are not familiar with Rosetta, here’s the CliffsNotes version: The spacecraft’s mission is to tag along with a comet as it journeys toward the sun. It was launched in March 2004, and after a loopy journey that had it traveling about 4 billion miles through the solar system, it finally — abd thrillingly — met up with the mountain-sized comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August.

Rosetta is now orbiting the comet and will continue to travel with it through 2015, observing how it changes as it warms from the heat of the sun.

We’re hoping the spaececraft captures more selifes, even pseudo-selfies, along the way.

Comets are the best! Follow me @DeborahNetburn and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.



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