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Close-up on Cheops

If you felt a strange disturbance in the Force while you were sat at your desk yesterday, it wasn’t due to a distant planet being blown up, or a young Jedi going over to the Dark Side. It was because, finally, FINALLY, the OSIRIS team released one of their images. No, really, they did! Some time yesterday morning, flaming torches held high, they went down into the caverns constructed beneath their HQ,  hauled open the twenty foot thick vault door which protects their precious horde of images from the attention of the world, and carefully selected one to share with us. Here’s an exclusive pic of the inside of the OSIRIS vault…


And what was the picture they chose to finally share with us? Was it a jaw-dropping portrait of one of the vents in the neck of the comet, spewing out gas and dust? Was it a close up of one of the layered rock formations which loom over the landscape like a fortress in Mordor?? Was it a stunning portrait of one of the comet’s craters, with crumbling walls and screes of debris????

No. It was this


Yes, that’s right. Out of all the images they have available, they released to the waiting world a picture of a single boulder.

And that boulder wasn’t even in the middle of the frame; it was tucked away in one corner of the image, with the rest of the frame showing just the comet’s flat bare, dusty surface.

Unbelievable. They must think we came over on the last banana boat.

Where is this rock? Here, I’ll show you…

Aug 4


Many other people are celebrating this, and saying thank you, but at the risk of sounding ungrateful and churlish and maybe even a little paranoid, I’m not going to join in with the party. That is a pathetic offering, considering what they have available, and I actually think it’s a deliberate snub to all the people requesting images, especially when you take into account that it’s actually a crop of an image, not even a single whole image.

If you zoom in on the boulder – which has been christened “Cheops” by the OSIRIS team – and do a bit of enhancing work on it, there are intriguing hints of detail…

Boulder_Cheops crop

Cheops is clearly very knobbly and rugged, and there appear to be a couple of hollows on the top in which dark surface material has gathered, but that’s about all we can see on that image.But it raises so many questions! Where did that boulder come from? Did it drop out of the sky after being blown off another area of the comet, miles away? Did it fall here from a cliff? Was it originally *under* the surface, and has been exposed as the material above and around it eroded away? And what are those bits embedded in it? SO many questions!

What is actually known about Cheops? Here’s the info from the press release:

This image of the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 19 September 2014, from a distance of 28.5 km.

The image features a large boulder casting a long shadow on the surface of the comet. The boulder has a maximum dimension of about 45 metres and is the largest structure within a group of boulders located on the lower side of the comet’s larger lobe. This cluster of boulders reminded scientists of the famous pyramids at Giza near Cairo in Egypt, and thus it has been named Cheops for the largest of those pyramids, the Great Pyramid, which was built as a tomb for the pharaoh Cheops (also known as Kheops or Khufu) around 2550 BC.


If others want to be grateful for this image, and celebrate its grudging release from the OSIRIS dungeon, they can. I’m not going to. And if you think that’s unfair, and ungrateful, well, come on, think about it… With hundreds of breathtaking images to choose from, showing a bewildering and giddying variety of features and structures, the OSIRIS team cropped one of their images to give us something that is mostly empty and blank, with a single rock banished to one corner. Basically, they gave us the most boring, most empty image they could, which cruelly hints at the magnificent detail other images must show.

This is a crumb tossed grudgingly from the top table, make no mistake about that. This is the people – or person – directly in charge of releasing their images to the public sticking two fingers up AT the public by putting out something that’s not really much better than a crop of a navcam image. It’s shameful.

And if no-one else has realised that, well, sorry, but I have.

If you’re reading this, nice try, OSIRIS, yes, very clever. Now stop laughing at us and show us a real image – something that’s worthy of you, your amazing cameras, and all the people supporting the mission.

4 Responses

  1. Stuart, I agree there is not much to cheer about in that Cheops image. Time to move to “Waiting for Siding Spring”.

    Are the Mars craft looking for pre-encounter images of the comet coming at them? http://cometcampaign.org/files/tables/css-plan-summaries.html gives plans from earth-based telescopes.

    The upper bound on Siding Spring’s nucleus diameter is 0.7 km. Yet it was discovered when it was 7 AU from the sun. Ison’s nucleus had about the same diameter and it was discovered at 6 AU i.e. beyond Jupiter. What makes these comets so “bright” (as to be discoverable from Earth) so far out from the Sun?


  2. Hi Stuart
    I placed below comment on ESA Rosetta Blog Page and was immediately “marked” as a risk to ESA/Baldwin authority.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Title “Philae’s primary landing site”
    Released 15/09/2014 11:00 am


    ” .. Site J offers the minimum risk to the lander in comparison to the other
    candidate sites, and is also scientifically interesting, with signs of
    activity nearby. At Site J, the majority of slopes are less than 30º relative
    to the local vertical, reducing the chances of Philae toppling over .. ”
    – – –

    Hi ESA I would be more than glad if you were right.

    The analysis of your “Boulder-Image” suggests the very opposite !

    Analyzing the surface NW of the ‘UNIQUE BOULDER’ shows a dramatically rough terrain.
    It looks like the ENTIRE surface is painted with obstacles in the (<1) to 5 metres size.

    Provided Philae makes it down (<5%) there is an enourmous chance the vehicle might be shaded from the sun by near-by or even 'next to it' boulders.

    OK – thruout mission planning and flight we were aware of existing mission risks.

    But in the light of facts – how in the world can ESA state just a few days ago:
    " .. Site J offers the minimum risk to the lander in comparison to .. .. "

    'Site J' – analyzed with even very simple tools – turns out to be a very risky landing site !

    And I think I have an idea why mission planners chose it anyway,
    . . .

  3. The moment I write this: Tuesday 14th Oct. 2014 0900zulu

    ESA Infomation Policy
    = = = = = = = = = =

    ESA Rosetta Blog
    => latest recorded activity : Friday 10th Oct. 2014


    Is anybody here who knows by when the ESA bureaucrats will be back to work ?

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Make no mistake :
    I clearly divide between the brilliant engineers and scientists and the the authoritative selfish ESA-Bureaucrats and the Blimp-Type figures in the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (here MPS/Sierks)

  4. ESA Rosetta Blog




    It is a well known scientific habit to give important
    landmarks names – either on other planets, asteroids or comets.


    In the light of an outstanding effort to issue ONE OSIRIS IMAGE
    in month I recommend this name for the image presented under URL above:

    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
    = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

    This name is protected
    It is definately not to be used by

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