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ROSETTA at the AGU in San Francisco

In my last ROSETTA post, talking about the continuing lack of images from the OSIRIS team, I ended by saying this…

Oh well, after sitting on them for so long, they have no choice but to share those images this week, at the AGU in San Francisco. Can’t wait to see them! 🙂

Well, I was wrong. Very wrong.

The presentations from various teams and scientists involved in the ROSETTA mission were, I think it’s fair to say, the most eagerly-anticipated of the whole AGU event, and the hall was, by all accounts, packed full to bursting for all of them, reflecting the huge scientific and media interest in the mission and its groundbreaking exploration of Comet 67P. And, as we had expected they would, scientists from some of the instruments and cameras onboard ROSETTA released results, and images, to complement their presentations. So we were able to see treats like this gorgeous new, enhanced view from the CIVA camera, showing the cliff (which has been christened “Perihelion Cliff” apparently) which is looming over the Philae lander…


We also saw new images taken by the ROLIS camera on the underside of Philae, which show fascinating detail on the surface as it came in to land…

B5Gdd9gIUAA5u9i.jpg large

And everyone was very impressed with this remarkable image, which is blurred because it was actually taken by Philae as it bounced off the surface of the comet after its first landing attempt…


But as amazing as those pictures were – and congratulations to the teams behind them, and THANK you, all of you, for releasing them! – of course what we were all really wanting to see were the close-up images of the comet’s surface, the ones we have been promised since ROSETTA launched. Surely, we all thought, SURELY the OSIRIS team was going to relent and release some of their Smaug horde of images in San Francisco? They’d have to, right?

Wrong. They did it again. They shafted us again.

Not only did the OSIRIS team stop their presentations from being broadcast online, via streaming video, like other talks were, but they didn’t release a single image to the media afterwards. Oh they showed images, lots of them, and they were by all accounts every bit as breathtaking as we imagined they would be. How do we know this? Because although the journalists and scientists watching those presentations weren’t allowed to take photographs of the screen (which is fair enough, if I was a scientist responsible for taking pin-sharp images I wouldn’t want grotty, grainy, out of focus JPG versions of them, with someone’s head in the way, being posted online) they were free to Tweet and blog about what they were seeing, and what they were being told, and as you can see they were gushing in their praise and excitement…





Sound FANTASTIC, don’t they? And a journalist writing for the prestigious magazine Nature had this to say…


Imagine what they saw in that hall…

I don’t know how many OSIRIS images were shown during the AGU ROSETTA presentations, but not one of them, not a single one of them, was published for use by the media, meaning, yet again, that the public – who, I will keep saying until I’m blue in the face, effectively paid for the photos to be taken, because the ROSETTA mission was funded by European tax payers – have been denied images they should be allowed to see.

One of the OSIRIS images shown during the AGU presentations would have captured the attention of the world’s media, and brought ROSETTA back into the spotlight. Instead, the BBC led with the blurry (though very cool in its own right) ROLIS image shown above. How ridiculous is it that when there are images available showing an alien world in jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring detail, images which would capture the public’s imagination, the image which is shown shows… well… nothing?

This getting beyond a joke now, it really is. It is nothing short of disgraceful.

The reluctance of the OSIRIS team to release its blessed images is now well known, and they have given reasons for it. They are keeping their images to themselves, they say, because they want to “protect their science”. They fear that if they release their images, other scientists not on their team will use those images to do cometary science of their own, and beat the OSIRIS team to the publication of the all-important scientific papers and journals professional scientists’ careers are made by. I have always given them the benefit of the doubt about that. After all, you have to trust them when they say that this kind of thing is possible, and no-one wants to see any of the OSIRIS team’s careers put at risk after all their years of hard work. That would be selfish beyond words.

But the actions of the OSIRIS team at the AGU have proved what a load of utter crap that justification is. It’s just rubbish, pure and simple, a lame excuse at best, and a blatant lie at worst. Because, really, seriously, if the OSIRIS team was so desperate to stop its images being used by other scientists, would they really have SHOWN those very images to HUNDREDS of those scientists, and JOURNALISTS, at one of the biggest international science conferences of the year?

Do me a favour. They must think we’re stupid.

I’ll say again: while it is understandable that the OSIRIS team needs to keep certain very important and significant images to itself, in order to use them for scientific research, it is simply not possible that every single OSIRIS image being taken needs to be kept secret. The OSIRIS team has simply decided to keep every image to itself, it’s as simple as that. They simply don’t want anyone else to see them.

One of the commenters on the ESA ROSETTA mission blog has suggested that ESA should apologise for the lack of OSIRIS images. That’s wrong. ESA has no need to apologise for the continuing lack of OSIRIS images, because they have no influence over the release of OSIRIS images, or over the actions of the OSIRIS team itself. ESA is running a fantastic mission, and is doing all it can to support it. Its Outreach efforts to the media and the public have been exemplary – the AMBITION short SF film was groundbreaking, and the cute animated adventures of ROSETTA and PHILAE recently won a big award. No. No blame should be put on ESA. What has become clear since ROSETTA arrived at 67P is that the OSIRIS team is essentially – or at least sees itself as – running a totally different space mission, independant from ROSETTA. Having hitched a ride to the comet onboard a spacecraft funded by the public and the countries of Europe, the OSIRIS team now feels no obligation to, and has Absolutely No Interest At All in, sharing its images with the public, the media or the world at large. This is disgraceful.

It’s also a great shame, because after ESA has made such HUGE strides in recent years re Outreach and media relations, having successfully shaken off the old image of a space agency which is very poor at Outreach, the OSIRIS team, with its selfish and arrogant image hording policy, is now damaging ESA’s public image. To say they are “protecting their science” by not publishing images, and then to show those images to halls packed to bursting point with fellow scientists, many of them rivals, shows just what contempt they have for the space enthusiast community and the public at large.In fact, they seem to have a level of contempt for their fellow ROSETTA mission scientists; they are not sharing their images with their colleagues, and at the AGU they would not even allow their presentations to be streamed to an overflow hall, when there was just not enough room. At best, paranoia, and at worst arrogance beyond belief.

One can only hope that future ESA missions insist that the science teams, and their PIs, are, under their contracts, obliged to share their results more generously, because this situation is just not acceptable.This is something the new DG of ESA MUST tackle as a priority. This kind of debacle must never be allowed to happen again.

The OSIRIS team told us they would be releasing an image a week, which everyone agreed was pathetic, but better than nothing. As it is, we’ve had one image from the OSIRIS team since landing day. They are laughing at us, plain and simple. Well, that’s up to them, but in years to come they will be judged very harshly for their actions, and I can only hope that when it comes to the ROSETTA mission requesting funds for a mission extension the refusal of the OSIRIS team to engage with the media and the public will not go against the mission as a whole. It would be unfair if the other science teams on the mission had to suffer because the OSIRIS team sees itself as above everyone else.

That is probably unfair on some of the team. I’m sure some of them are very uncomfortable with this whole damned pantomime, and are embarrassed by it. I’m sure some of the OSIRIS team would love their images to be released so they could be proud of them, and share them with a curious world. But they aren’t the ones making the decisions. Within the OSIRIS team there are a few people digging their heels in and forbidding the release of the images we were told we would get to see. Or maybe it’s just one person. Whoever it is, they are behaving selfishly, arrogantly and disgracefully.

But they don’t care. It’s obvious they don’t. If they did care, they would release some of their images, so people around the world could share this special moment in the history of space exploration. Those images should be on the aged screens of PCs in poor schools in Africa and Afghanistan, just as they should be on the laptop screens of kids in the computer labs of schools in London and Los Angeles. The people of Europe, who paid for ROSETTA, with taxes taken from their wage packets, should be able to see those images on their phones as they travel back home on the bus, exhausted, after working at their jobs in shops, hospitals and schools. And I know I sound like a scratched CD, and I come across as a bit ranting about this but it is fundamentally, fundamentally wrong that the OSIRIS team is holding on to every image it takes like this. And if no-one else is going to come out and say it, I will: OSIRIS team, stop acting like spoiled brats, stop looking down your noses at the public who got your cameras to Mars for you, and grow up. You are letting the ROSETTA mission, and ESA itself, down.

Anyway, enough about that. I’m sure they don’t give a **** about what people out here think. So let’s move on.

A couple of days ago the ESA team which is releasing the navcam images of 67P set free another absolute beauty, and I managed to make some (I think!) gorgeous enhanced crops from it. Hope you like them…

crop 5 f

crop 4 f

ROS_CAM1_20141214D crop f1

Comet_on_14_December_2014_NavCam crop 3 f

…and those are just cropped from low resolution navcam images… Just imagine the detail that must be visible on OSIRIS images… (sigh)…

Oh well, thanks AGAIN to the brilliant ESA team which is releasing the navcam images, and writing the blogs, and press releases; you’re doing a great job, all of you, and I hope you all have some time off over Christmas to grab some rest and kick back a bit after what must have been a very hectic few months. I think you’re going to be even busier next year, as the comet gets closer to the Sun and starts to wake up…

7 Responses

  1. […] wohl nichts mit Philae zu tun hat, ein AGU-Cartoon, ein Science@NASA, Artikel hier, hier, hier, hier und hier – und ein Radio-Märchen allein aus Tweets. Von anderswo im Sonnensystem noch Bilder […]

  2. Surely the whole OSIRIS team would be listed as co-authors on any papers that are published ?

    Philae captured the imagination of the world and for a short while was the most popular thing in the world.

    This is literally the greatest time in human history and the public needs visual spectacle to drive an interest in science.

    Is there a deadline after which the OSIRIS data must be made public ?

    This really does seem like a missed opportunity to change the hearts and minds of so many.

    I had though the Max Plank institute supported Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge ?

    This really is a very worrying precedent for European science and seems to be going against the current Weltanschauung.

    • Each OSIRIS image has an individual deadline: Exactly one year after receipt of the data by the group from ESOC mission control. At this point, the “scientific data products” have to be delivered “in a reduced and calibrated form” for use by other scientists.

      RSOC, the Rosetta Science Operations Center, has a deadline for publication afterwards: One year after it has received “the complete data sets from the individual Rosetta science investigations” – read: in theory up to end of 2016, later if the mission gets extended.

      Open Access doesn’t apply until the work is published. On the internet. Then it has to be free for all.

  3. Rosetta-Philae – this mission (almost once in a lifetime) is accompanied by a tsunami of relevant scientific marvels
    compiled & edited by ESA, Max-Planck-Institute & DLR

    =1.) => “ESA Rosetta Blog” => “DLR-PHILAE-BLOG”

    =2a) “DLR-PHILAE-BLOG”

    =2b) Articles as per 21.Dezember 2014, Abstracts

    Titel-1: Closing in on Rosetta’s target comet (LATEST ENTRY)
    Date/posted 24. July 2014 | posted by Elke Heinemann

    Titel-2: Bloggers and social media users –
    invitation to the commissioning of the Rosetta lander Philae
    in Cologne on 28 March
    Date/posted 19. March 2014 | posted by Fabian Walker

    Titel-3: T-377 days !
    Date/posted 30. October 2013 | posted by Koen Geurts

    (Dear reader, no information available about when above
    mentioned editors will report back to work)


    Stuart, prior to Philae’s crash-landing – which I predicted on the ‘ESA/Rosetta Blog’ by October 10th, 2014 – I posted the question to the ESA Science Blog Editor whether we have to expect a DLR Info Policy equivalent to the OSIRIS procedures.

    Well – the reply was as expected and as applied to all my inputs prior to this one – my comment was put under moderation.

    To avoid being put under mod by you, Stuart I hinder myself to present my personal opinion

    ( I have been involved in various space missions: HELIOS-A & B, Viking Marslanders, Pioneer 10 & 11, Voyager 1 & 2 )

    I monitored the HAYABUSA / ITOKAWA mission to the extremest extent

    If you compare the ref. JAXA pages with ESA’s you might well go berserk

    • I don’t ‘mod’ comments, I don’t have time! I just Approve them when I get the chance. This is an amateur effort, not a professional one. Say what you want to say.

  4. One of the coolest things in my life was to be at the Pasadena civic Center in 1981 where Carl Sagan, Ed Stone, and the other project Voyager scientists displayed the images coming down from Saturn in real time for everyone there and the world to see.

    To see Sagan exclaim “that’s impossible!” when the braided rings showed up was a thrilling example of participatory science.

    No one jumped the gun with papers about it, and no one lost the reputation by showing off the raw images. However, the world was made a better and more inclusive place because of it….

    That is what you are missing OSIRIS team.

  5. Thanks to the OSIRIS team, the public now has an impression of space scientists as possessive, paranoid, and petty. Its THEIR football, and nobody else gets to play with it…adding pathetic to the list.

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