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Comet 67P bursts into life…

..and again, a huuuuuuge THANK YOU to the ESA navcam team which keeps releasing breathtaking images of Comet 67P! Today’s is an absolute beauty…


Just look at all that activity! jets and plumes and spurts of gas and dust shooting out **everywhere**! And I love how you can see the “cliffs” (I know, I know, they’re not really cliffs, but I still think of them that way) lit softly by light reflecting off other parts of the comet too. With a little enhancement the comet’s activity really leaps out at you…


And look up the top there… is that the smaller lobe of the comet casting a shadow through all the dust and gas shooting off the neck? What a view…

A couple more artistic takes, just because I can and they look gorgeous…



Seriously, navcam guys, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU. The images you’re sharing with us are sensational, and if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t even know ROSETTA was still studying 67P, because the OSIRIS team are still keeping their images locked away.

(cue groans from some readers)

I know, I’ve been over this before many times, here and elsewhere, and I’ve had people agreeing with me and giving me a hard time because of it. That’s ok; if you write a blog like this and give an opinion you’re open to criticism, and I’m all for freedom of speech. But my views haven’t changed, and won’t change, even though I fear I’m banging my head against a brick wall here, or coming across like a child whining “I want a pony NOW!” But while I understand people saying the OSIRIS team should be given time to work with their images, and Ihave nothing but the utmost respect for the scientists involved, I do think the attitude of the OSIRIS team is fundamentally flawed and wrong, and not only damages ESA but science itself. Why?

First of all, of course the OSIRIS scientists, who have waited many, many years to see their instruments fly and data flow back, have every right to be allowed to write their papers and further their careers without the risk of someone coming in from outside and stealing their glory, but I am puzzled why they are so worried about their data being stolen when the teams behind CASSINI, CURIOSITY, OPPORTUNITY and other missions, including ROSETTA’s own NAVCAM team, are happy to release images regularly – in the case of the Mars rovers, daily. Now, no-one in their right mind would suggest that *every* image taken by the ROSETTA mission should be released in real time, that would be ridiculous, but it is impossible for me to believe that every single image being taken by OSIRIS is so paradigm-shifting, so revolutionary that it has to be kept locked up. There must be some that just “look cool” but don’t show anything of any scientific use to anyone. They could be released without any risk to science or careers, and everyone would benefit.

Also, as I have said before, I simply find it impossible to believe that the OSIRIS team, if they are so worried about their science being stolen, couldn’t release versions of their images which have been lowered enough in resolution to make them unusable for science, but still look impressive.Why can’t they do that?

As I have said before, I’m coming at this subject/controversy from a different angle from the space enthusiasts who just feel impatient to see the pictures being taken by OSIRIS, because my main passion isn’t the actual science, it’s *communicating* the science to the public, young and old, as an Outreacher in the community and in schools. I also write science books for children, and run an active astronomical society here in Cumbria. So, basically, I meet and talk to a LOT of people about space exploration, “spreading the word” as it were. That means I meet a lot of very enthusiastic people who “get it”, people who love the excitement and discovery space exploration brings and rewards us with. But I also meet a lot of people who *don’t* get it, and question the vast amounts of money spent on space exploration, And I know, we defend it, we puff out our chests and preach about how it is all money spent here on Earth, and it”s spent in the pursuit of knowledge, it enriches us all, etc, etc, and that’s all true, but let’s be honest – every time a rocket goes up, every time a probe flies off to a distant world or comet, that’s the cost of a hospital or a school being fired into the sky. And at a time when “austerity” is genuinely hurting people, when young mothers can’t afford to feed their kids, when pensioners can’t afford to heat their homes, when schools can’t afford repairs to their leaking roofs, I’m finding it increasingly hard to stand in front of a classroom of kids, or a village hall full of WI members and justify the amounts of money spent taking pictures of rocks on Mars or jets on a comet.

But if those pictures *are* being taken, then they should be shared with the people who paid for them *to* be taken, not horded by very well paid scientists and enjoyed in private, in well heated offices and labs with very sturdy roofs.

Last week I gave a talk to a group of Brownies here in Kendal, to help them with their “Stargazers” badge, and had a fantastic time with a great bunch of kids. I laughed with them so much I could hardly breathe. At one point I showed a navcam image of 67P and they *gasped* in amazement, which was brilliant! And I wondered how many of them might go on, one day, to follow a career in science, or just have an interest in science. But after my talk, as I was showing the young girls some meteorites, one of the exhausted volunteer leaders said to me “That was very interesting, but it must cost a fortune to get those pictures…” and I looked around me, at the room with its damp ceiling and worn chairs, and had to struggle to fight back feelings of guilt. It’s hard to keep justifying expenditure on space with any conviction when the money being spent is spent on things people aren’t allowed to see.

And I know that there will be images released to the PDS eventually, which will be great for those of us in the know, space enthusiasts who live online and are comfortable navigating the treacherous waters of the internet to get to the right image in the right folder on the right webpage, but the people out there, in the real world, can’t do that, they rely on the media to show them the beautiful and fascinating images being taken in their name and with *their* money.

So I’m sorry if I seem like a broken record here, but I genuinely think the attitude shown by the OSIRIS team is wrong. It makes – unfairly and wrongly – scientists come across as selfish and elitist, and that’s bad for all of us who support science.

The bottom line is that there clearly are pictures the OSIRIS team could release to the media, without any risk to their careers, because they were happy to show them to the public at a conference in Germany last week, reported on by blogger Daniel Fischer. But they are choosing not to share them, and that is inconsistent and ridiculous.

Last week we had new, historic images of both Pluto and Ceres released by NASA without any fear or paranoia or worry. We saw startling new vistas from Mars, sent back by the rovers there. This is the way things are done now, by everyone, it seems, except the OSIRIS team, and I can’t get my head around it, I just can’t. We live at a time when a tsunami of terror and savagery is sweeping across the world, when savages and barbarians find joy in hacking off the heads of innocent people and, now, burning them alive. In America, ignorant and foolish politicians are at war with science, questioning climate change, and worse. And taking their lead in questioning and denying science, ignorant parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, naive men and women are looking at the sky in fear, convinced airplane vapour trails are “chemtrails” dripping poison on them, or they look at the Moon and refuse to believe people landed on it. All the time I meet and get abuse from people who believe in Nibiru, or the “Second Sun”, or other lunacy.

Closer to home, take a look at the ESA own Rosetta blog and you will find countless people trying to ram their nonsensical “Electric Universe” BS down people’s throats. Science is under attack everywhere we look. So the beauty of science, the wonder of science, the value of science all need to be communicated to the public, or the future will be a very dark place indeed. If we don’t do something to push back this tide of ignorance and fear, instead of flags fluttering in the gentle breezes on Mars, black, blood-soaked black banners will fly over the ruins of our civilisation here on Earth, I really fear that.

So the people who *do* science need to share it with people, or else those people will not believe it, or believe in it.

And that includes the OSIRIS team.

I hope they change their ways, and share their visions of wonder with the world beyond the doors of their offices before they are obliged to under their written-in-blood contracts with ESA.

New SOLAR ECLIPSE Guide blog


I’m starting to get people asking me for advice about how to watch the solar eclipse on March 20th, so I’ve put together a blog for absolute beginners, with all the info needed to observe and enjoy the eclipse – timings, what equipment to use, etc.