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Right. Before I go any further with this post, I want to make a few things clear so there is no misunderstanding. I am fully supportive of ESA as an organisation, and have nothing but praise and thanks for the ROSETTA team which is working so hard, with limited time, resources and budget, to “spread the word” about the mission and publicise its achievements. I want to say a special and public THANK YOU, AGAIN, to the team responsible for releasing the navcam images of Comet 67P, which have, as they promised us they would, shown us what a bewilderingly exotic and bizarre world 67P is. None have been released for a few days now, but hopefully it’s just a pause while everything is so busy, and we;ll see miore navcams soon, I have nothing but praise and more thanks to the mission’s outreach team which has worked tirelessly, for years, to raise public awareness of and interest in ROSETTA’s historic encounter with 67P through countless cute animations, exciting competitions and attractive, info-packed websites. They’ve done, and continue to do, a fantastic job. The ESA “Comet Chaser” blog is especially good, and much thanks needs to go to everyone working on that.


There is another camera onboard ROSETTA, a much higher resolution one than the navcam called OSIRIS, which has been taking absolutely jaw-droppingly, ass-kickingly incredible images of the surface of 67P – pictures which we are not being allowed to see despite countless appeals from the pro-space community and journalists. And that is now, I’m afraid, becoming nothing short of a disgrace.

Now, before going any further, let’s be clear about this, again. This OSIRIS image hording is nothing to do with ESA. ESA has no say over when, or which, OSIRIS images are shared with the world. But come on, that’s wrong, it just is. ROSETTA is a publicly funded mission – no, it is: we all pay taxes, and our elected Govts have seen fit to hand over some of that tax to ESA, to do cool stuff with, like fly ROSETTA to a comet and take pictures of it, so we all have a stake in the mission, however small – but the public are grudgingly being tossed scraps from the OSIRIS table.

Essentially ESA gave OSIRIS a lift to the comet in a fancy car, which we paid for, and now it’s there OSIRIS is leaning out the window, snapping away like crazy, but keeping its pictures to itself, whilst calling out cruelly “Wow! Look at that! That’s amazing!! Unbelievable!” to all of us working our day jobs, desperate to see the pics, but deprived of them.

Now I’m not stupid, I’m not naive. I know that there are Reasons why we’re not being shown the pictures, and the people sitting on them believe they are good reasons. For a start, the OSIRIS team must be INCREDIBLY busy looking for a safe landing site for Philae next month, so they won’t have time to prepare all their images for release by writing the captions and media blurb that accompany such things. That’s fair enough. Also, there’s no getting away from the fact that the OSIRIS team is “just following the rules”. They’re not obliged to release their images because their archaic agreements with ESA, and ESA’s contributing states, allow them to sit on those images for up to 6 months, giving them time to use them for scientific research before the rest of the world gets their grubby little paws on them. And I can see the sense in that too, because I am that if I was an OSIRIS scientist I would be concerned about people outside of the mission using their data to “do science” with and beat me to announcing discoveries in papers and journals. But no-one is asking for *every* image to be released, just a few. I would never, ever risk a scientist’s career by demanding the release of everything, that would be foolish and selfish and unrealistic.


Come on… OSIRIS must have taken *dozens* of images by now, surely, and we’ve seen less than half a dozen to date. I cannot – and absolutely refuse to – believe that there aren’t *some* OSIRIS images which would show us the incredible surface of 67P without needing a whole day to write a press release for them, or risking a career, or opening up a planet-eating rift in the space time continuum.

Somewhere on a server in Germany there is a folder stuffed full of pictures taken by OSIRIS which show such incredible detail they would knock our socks off. We should be allowed to see them.

Now I know this might sound like a bit of a bawling, fists-thumping-on-table “I want! I want!” tantrum rant by an impatient, selfish space geek… and ok, guilty as charged, I DO want to see those pictures ,myself, cos I AM a space geek and I live for this stuff, and I really, really want to see the surface of 67P in detail. But, less selfishly, I also want to be sharing these images with the people who read my blogs, and who come to my Outreach talks. I want to be able to shout out, with those pics, how amazing ESA is, and what an incredible achievement this is! And again, keeping ALL the OSIRIS images under lock and key is just… wrong.

What I just can’t get my head around is this: the ROSETTA Outreach and publicity team has worked tirelessly, for YEARS, to promote the mission and to get people around the world to engage with it and get excited about the encounter with 67P. They made the probe into a cute media star, with its own presence on Twitter and Facebook, and essentially brought it to life for people all around the world, giving it its own personality. At the same time ESA has been telling us what a fantastic mission ROSETTA is, and how it would revolutionise our understanding of comets, and take the best, most detailed ever images of a comet. And now, with ROSETTA within spitting distance of the comet, and with space enthusiasts, journalists and the public all whipped up into a pre-landing frenzy, there are none of those images to see! They should be everywhere! On every blog, every space website, forum and tumblr. It’s crazy!

No, let’s be frank, let’s be honest. It’s not crazy, it’s foolish. In fact, it’s bloody stupid. There, I’ve said it. Lots of people are thinking it, and whispering it to each other, but not daring to say it outloud. Ok, I will. The way the OSIRIS images are being withheld from the public is bloody stupid. Even the most unexceptional scientifically could be exciting, inspiring and educating people across the globe just because they show things never seen before. The people responsible for those images should be looking at the way the public, space enthusiasts and amateur image processors have all embraced the release of navcam images, and felt a part of the mission because of them, and thinking “Hey, that could be us!” They could be using them to show the public just what an incredible achievement OSIRIS is and putting out a “harmless” one every couple of days. Instead they’re just not listening to the appeals for more images to be released, and sitting on them. And I’m sorry, but I think that’s pretty shameful.

And come on, seriously, did no-one in charge of OSIRIS image release notice the reaction to the release of the gorgeous whole Mars globe image taken by India’s Mars orbiter yesterday? Twitter, Facebook, forums and space news websites went absolutely insane! Just imagine the reaction – and the surge in support for ROSETTA and ESA – if they released an OSIRIS pic showing the surface of 67P at 1m resolution, which is the resolution possible for the camera now, I believe…

I don’t know, it just makes no sense to me, sitting on everything like this. Every picture can’t be invaluable. Every picture can’t be The One that scientists need to write their career-making paper. Every picture can’t be so important it has to be held hostage, chained to a radiator in some cellar beneath the Max Planck Institute for Science.

Can it?

What does everyone else think? Do YOU want to see the OSIRIS images of 67P, or are you happy to wait until next Spring to see them? Let me know in the comments. But keep it civil, and polite, and respectful. This policy is wrong, but the people involved are good people, if a little misguided. I’m sure they think they’re doing the right thing. They just need to wake up to the fact that the world has changed, and that it;s no longer ok to sit on images like this when there are people wanting to see them.

In the meantime, if anyone with the key to the OSIRIS vault reads this (I’ve written to the OSIRIS Project Manager twice now, but no reply), if you won’t listen to me, you might listen to this guy…


Thank you 🙂


7 Responses

  1. Well said Stu.
    Assuming OSIRIS is still working – would we know if it wasn’t?, would ESA tell us? – it should be imaging individual rock size resolution by now. I can only imagine how much these images are being thoroughly analyzed by the ROSETTA team prior to Philae’s drop, but surely, SURELY they could release the odd one now and again. It almost seems to be bordering on hoarding now.

  2. Stuart,

    Maybe the Osiris pictures actually show that 67P is an alien starship!

    While on Osiris images, on reddit I saw these responses to the last one they released.


    Perhaps ESA didn’t anticipate dealing with the wider English-speaking public.


  3. […] – teilweise Exklusives – im Philae-Blog des MPS, eine PM eines Zulieferers – und anhaltende Klagen über die extrem restriktive Bilder-Politik (mehr und mehr) der Mission. [15:55 […]

  4. […] – teilweise Exklusives – im Philae-Blog des MPS, eine PM eines Zulieferers – und anhaltende Klagen über die extrem restriktive Bilder-Politik (mehr und mehr) der Mission. [15:55 […]

  5. We are some in France who have decided to BAN Holger Sierks of any interviews until the OSIRIS images are released… We feel is outrageously scandalous that NO OSIRIS images are released by ESA either, nor by the Rosetta team. It’s OUR taxes, OUR money ! They are all paid on OUR salaries through our taxes. We deserve respect. Also shame on you, Fred Jansen, Rosetta Project Scientist, who is using friendly amateur space blogs, under cover names, to spy all what is said about his mission and sending E-mails for intimidation… You don’t have the class of JPL engineers and scientists.

  6. I am attempting to take this into the political arena, with a ban on UK funding for any future missions by selfish PIs – the question that my MP has agreed to ask (may get slightly modified) is this:

    “Is the [science] minister aware that data from some publicly funded ESA projects such as the Rosetta mission is being deliberately withheld from the public for many months, and can he give an assurance that any future UK contributions to ESA projects will be conditional on full and immediate release of all data, without the application of any ‘proprietary period’?”

    Yes, this is broad, and no, it doesn’t accommodate the “we need it for our reputations” argument, which I believe to be spurious on 2 grounds:

    1) Their reputations should be judged on their ability to get the instruments in place, working etc. (for which they would have been loudly applauded had they not subsequently made pariahs of themselves). Sure, if they can get conclusions from the data which are better than others’ then fine – judge them on that also, but that could be done on a level playing field.

    2) The immediate release doesn’t seem to hurt US/NASA scientists – what makes the European ones feel that they need this intellectual protectionism?


    • The withholding of almost all of the OSIRIS images is a travesty, and this bad example should be kept in mind when choosing institutions to participate in future missions.
      Bravo to the NAVCAM team for going a long way toward filling the visual vacuum, you will define the mission in the short term news cycles.

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