Well, I *say* update, but there’s not much to say, because someone appears to have bunged a cork in the image pipeline between ESA and The Outside World. Again.
Although we were supposed to be getting them daily, the last image we saw of Comet 67P was taken on August 23rd, and released on August 27th, and that was of just one quarter of the comet. Why Well, that makes sense because ROSETTA is now so close to the comet that its NAVCAM cameras can only see a quarter of the comet at one time, so they’re having to take four photos to image the whole nucleus. But did they release a batch of four pictures to show the whole nucleus? No. They just released one image. And although they must be being taken to aid the hunt for a landing site, we haven’t seen any new full quality OSIRIS images since August 14th, which is scandalous, to be perfectly frank.
Really, ESA? Really? Your Outreach and Education people, your media people, your internet people spent months and months doing brilliant work to raise public awareness of and interest in the mission – cute animations, interactive websites, the absolute genius “Are We There yet?” competition etc – and now, when ROSETTA’s cameras are sending back the best ever views of a comet, you slam the door?
I don’t mean to be rude, but that’s just bloody stupid. In the run up to Arrival Day, and for a couple of weeks after, the ROSETTA mission had a fantastic level of public interest, each new image greeted with excitement and appreciation, but with no new images being released that interest is waning, and ROSETTA is fading into the background. Dangerous, very dangerous. Once you lose momentum – and support – like that it’s hard to get it back.
So what’s going on? Why are we not seeing any images from ROSETTA now? I know the ROSETTA team’s #1 priority is using OSIRIS’ incredible imaging capabilities to find a safe landing site for Philae, and not to take, and share with us, pretty pictures, and that is fair and fine, the clock is ticking. OSIRIS, as we have already established, is essentially a private camera which has hitched a ride to 67P onboard an ESA spacecraft, and the people who operate the camera say when its images are released, ESA has no say in that, simple as that. But ESA does have say over when navcam images can be released, so why have they stopped sharing them?
I think it’s possibly because ESA’s “higher ups” are worried that now ROSETTA is so close to the comet, its navcam images are so good that they can show details and features on its surface too small to ever have been seen before (which is a GOOD thing!!!), and they don’t want to risk upsetting the OSIRIS people by putting anything out which might pre-empt their work.
And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Richard Berry, who once edited “Astronomy” magazine and is a genuine astronomy expert, posted this comment on Facebook after I posted my “Missing” poster on my page…
Is this the case? Are navcam images now essentially too good to share with the public? Well, the general public are no risk. They just see a picture and either think “Huh, okay…” or “Wow!” depending on their level of scientific knowledge and how much they “get” this space stuff. But ok, there are many people “out here” with a more specialised interest in these things – we “space enthusiasts” who follow these missions daily, download every image, pour over them for hours and use them to make our own images, enhanced, stretched, etc – and we could conceivably use navcam images taken on different days to spot subtle changes like new rockfalls, or areas of out-gassing opening up, so I can see that might be a genuine concern in some circles, even though NASA is happy to release daily images from its Mars rovers and CASSINI Saturn orbiter and risk the same thing happening.
So, ok, playing Devil’s Advocate here it might be reasonable for the OSIRIS team to keep their images to themselves, but it’s absolutely not, in my opinion, acceptable for ESA to do the same with its navcam images. I go back to my original point about funding. We paid for this mission, with our wages, with the money in our pockets, with the money we earned from working in our jobs in factories, or on hospital wards, or in garages, or classrooms, so those images are ours, and we should be allowed to see them. Many people disagree with that point of view, and that’s fine, but it is very much my point of view and I’m sticking to it.
And apart from that, I’m baffled how ESA could invest so much effort, time and money in running such a brilliant campaign to get the public interested in the mission, to get them to invest in it personally, only to stop releasing images just when things are getting really interesting and we’re seeing things no human eye has ever seen before. If someone in a sharp suit, sat behind a desk in some office deep in the bowels of ESA HQ has told the imaging team to stop releasing images for anything other than practical reasons, then they need to think again.
I hope that this is just a blip because everyone there is so busy looking for a landing site, and that no-one has decided we’ve seen enough for now, and that we see some new images soon. 🙂
In the meantime, I hope some of you will wander on over to my “Astropoetry” blog to read my new poem, inspired by ROSETTA’s mission to 67P…
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