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Comet with a collar


OSIRIS images of Rosetta’s comet resolve structures at 100 metres pixel scale

Rubber duckie has a collar! At least this is what the surface structures of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko look like in new images of taken by Rosetta’s onboard scientific imaging system OSIRIS. The resolution of these images is now 100 meters per pixel. One of the most striking features is currently found in the comet’s "neck" region. This part of 67P seems to be brighter than the rest of the nucleus.

Close-ups: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko imaged on July 20th, 2014 from a distance of approximately 5500 kilometres. The three images were taken 2 hours apart.


As earlier images had already shown, 67P may consist of two parts: a smaller head connected to a larger body. The connecting region, the neck, is proving to be especially intriguing. “The only thing we know for sure at this point is that this neck region appears brighter compared to the head and body of the nucleus”, says OSIRIS Principal Investigator Holger Sierks from the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. This collar-like appearance could be caused by differences in material or grain size or could be a topographical effect.

Even though the images taken from a distance of 5500 kilometers are still not highly resolved, the scientists feel remotely reminded of comet 103P/Hartley. This body was visited in a flyby by NASA’s EPOXI mission in 2010. While Hartley’s ends show a rather rough surface, its middle is much smoother. Scientists believe this waist to be a gravitational low: since it contains the body’s center of mass, emitted material that cannot leave the comet’s gravitational field is most likely to be re-deposited there. 

Whether this also holds true for 67P’s neck region is still unclear. Another explanation for the high reflectivity could be a different surface composition. In the next weeks the OSIRIS teams hopes to analyze the spectral data of this region obtained with the help of the imaging system’s filters. These can select several wavelength regions from the reflected light allowing to identify the characteristic fingerprints of certain materials and compositional features.

At the same time, the team is currently modelling the comet’s three-dimensional shape from the camera data. Such a model can help to get a better impression of the body’s shape.

Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI. Rosetta will be the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface.

The scientific imaging system OSIRIS was built by a consortium led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Germany) in collaboration with CISAS, University of Padova (Italy), the Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (France), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucia, CSIC (Spain), the Scientific Support Office of the European Space Agency (The Netherlands), the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (Spain), the Universidad Politéchnica de Madrid (Spain), the Department of Physics and Astronomy of Uppsala University (Sweden), and the Institute of Computer and Network Engineering of the TU Braunschweig (Germany). OSIRIS was financially supported by the national funding agencies of Germany (DLR), France (CNES), Italy (ASI), Spain (MEC), and Sweden (SNSB) and the ESA Technical Directorate.


Dr. Holger Sierks

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen

Phone: +49 551 384979-242


Dr. Birgit Krummheuer

Press Officer

Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen

Phone: +49 551 384979-462
Fax: +49 551 384979-240

Dr. Holger Sierks | Max-Planck-Institute

Further reports about: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko ASI CNES Comets DLR ESA OSIRIS Rosetta gravitational neck

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