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Differences…

Yesterday was a fantastic day for space enthusiasts/advocates/geeks whatever you want to call us. First we had a new navcam release from the ESA ROSETTA team, which shows Comet 67P in stunning detail and from a particularly striking angle. Here it is…

Comet_on_12_January_2015_NavCam

Isn’t that a stunning view? The huge (and STILL unnamed!!!!) crater at the ‘front’ of the smaller lobe looks magnificent, its floor strewn with rubble and huge boulders, while over there on the front of the larger lobe, that plateau with its guarding cliffs looks incredible. Of course, I set to work on that image and created some new “visions” of it, purely for my (and hopefully your!) enjoyment, I’m not suggesting they are scientifically valuable or anything like that…

12 jan b

And really hitting the boost button reveals a lot of activity coming off the comet…

Comet_on_12_January_2015_NavCam enh

Then, out of the blue, without any real warning, I read a justifiably breathless Tweet from Planetary Society blogger and science writer Emily Lakdawalla informing her Followers and the world that NASA had posted images of the dwarf planet Ceres taken by the DAWN space probe just a week or so ago! Look at this!

pia19167_main

Now ok, that might LOOK like just a grey smeary blurry mottled mess, and it’s not as good as the images of Ceres taken by the Hubble telescope,  but it *almost* is, and thanks to the better lighting it does show much more tantalising hints of what might be craters and other features on its surface. DAWN arrives at Ceres in March, and is getting closer every minute, so the next set of images released by the team, in just a few days, will be at least as good as Hubble’s and probably even better. What an exciting encounter this is going to be – a whole new world (albeit a dwarf one) to see close up for the very first time in history, to map and chart and place names on. True exploration!

So while the latest images of Ceres might not be as sharp and detailed as the ROSETTA navcams of 67P, they are still very exciting to look at, and we should say a huge THANK YOU to the Dawn team for putting them online for us all to see.

And in a way, that’s as important a thing as the actual images themselves. You see, the images of Ceres released yesterday were taken on January 13th, barely a week ago. Just think about that. Without making a big deal out of it, just because, in this modern age it is the Right Thing To Do, scientists flying a space probe to an incredibly exciting place, to a dwarf planet, took photos of it and let the world see them after just a week. And they will, they tell us, share the rest of the images they take too. What a stark contrast – and you knew this was coming, I’m sure – to the OSIRIS team currently photographing Comet 67P in secret from the ROSETTA space probe.

Clearly, the DAWN team get it. No bleating about the need for a “proprietary period”, no top secret presentations, no looking down arrogantly on the public, nothing like that. Clearly they “get” the importance of media and public outreach, and want the rest of the world to join in with the excitement of this bold mission to explore a new world out there in the depths of space.

You can read the press release about the images, and watch a funky animation of Ceres rotating, here…

http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/dawn-delivers-new-image-of-ceres/#.VL5rty4uffc

So, you see, there’s the proof, again. NASA has shown us, again, that images taken by space probes can be released to, and shared with, the public, and the media, without the scientists involved having to worry about their careers being threatened or their discoveries being scooped. If the DAWN team feels able to do it… and the Mars Exploration Rover team… and the Mars Science Laboratory team… and the CASSINI team… then why doesn’t the OSIRIS team? It’s beyond ridiculous. And I’m sorry but it really does show, very clearly, that the OSIRIS team doesn’t feel it *can’t* release its images, it shows they just don’t *want* to. Which is very, very sad.

But it’s up to them. When 2015 turns into 2016, and the Reviews of the Year are proclaiming the past 12 months’ successes of Opportunity, of the Mars Science Laboratory, of New Horizons and Dawn, the Rosetta mission’s success will be celebrated too, but it will be the images taken by its navcams which are shown on the TV and across the internet to illustrate that success, not the OSIRIS team’s images. I’m sure the OSIRIS team won’t care about that. But it will be a great shame for ESA, which has made huge strides on outreach and engaging with the public. They deserve better.

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