By the time the European Space Agency probe ROSETTA arrived at Comet 67P last August the world was already excited about the mission to the point of bursting. A fantastic Outreach and media campaign – involving competitions, cute animations, sci-fi short films and countless user-friendly shiny websites and blogs – meant that as the probe closed-in on its icy prey millions of people around the world were already desperate to see the images the probe would take.
Most of the excitement was due to the well-publicised capabilities of the probe’s OSIRIS cameras, high resolution instruments which would take and send back the clearest, sharpest, most detailed views ever taken of a comet. As ROSETTA closed in on 67P millions of people around the world were waiting eagerly to see the images OSIRIS would take – the stunning close-ups of the comet’s craters, vents, pits, crumbling cliffs, and more we had been promised as ROSETTA sped towards its target.
No-one was expecting to see all the images as they came in, as happens with NASA’s Mars rovers, because that’s just not how ESA works; mission scientists have exclusive rights to their instruments’ images and data before releasing them to the public, giving them time to use them for research and study. And that’s only fair, as no-one in their right mind would begrudge them that opportunity after they’ve worked so hard for so long, and given up so much, to get their precious data. But it was understood that some OSIRIS images would be released regularly, and we were all very much looking forward to that…
Oh, and the probe’s own navigation camera – or NAVCAM – would be taking pictures too. But with lower resolution than the OSIRIS cameras, and a wider field of view, they weren’t expected to be anywhere near as exciting, and would really just be used by the science teams and engineers and controllers to steer ROSETTA around the nucleus safely. OSIRIS would provide the wonder and the spectacle, the shock and awe the media and the public were expecting in the 21st century…
It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
For reasons described elsewhere on this blog, on many previous occasions, only a handful of OSIRIS images has been released since ROSETTA arrived at 67P. In fact, so few have been shared with the world that you could be forgiven for forgetting that the OSIRIS cameras actually made it onboard ROSETTA. So few and far between have the image releases by the OSIRIS team been that some have openly wondered if there was a problem with the camera that they weren’t telling us about. But no, there’s no problem. Not with the camera, anyway. The problem is that, fir various reasons, the OSIRIS team just doesn’t want to share its images with the rest of us. Not now, anyway.
One day they will have to, of course, they’ll have no choice. One day they will have to let the rest of us see what they have been seeing in private behind their closed doors all these months. I look forward to that day. I look forward to it very much.
Thankfully, the team behind the NAVCAM camera has a rather different attitude to image release. Like the teams behind the Mars rovers, they “get it” that there is a real hunger out here to see the images being taken by hugely expensive space missions like ROSETTA, and so they have been releasing images almost daily, supported magnificently by the mission’s hard-working outreach and media teams.
So, while the long-awaited OSIRIS images remain hidden on hard drives, only enjoyed by the OSIRIS team itself (and, bizarrely, fellow scientists and a few privileged members of the public whenever they choose to show them at science conferences and events), NAVCAM images are released almost daily. And that’s good, because if those NAVCAM images weren‘t being released no-one would know ROSETTA was still even studying the comet.
But not only has the NAVCAM team released its images, it’s actively encouraged members of the public to download them and play with them, to create panoramas, mosaics, 3D views and even animations!
And so, without meaning to, I’m sure, the NAVCAM images have come to BE the ROSETTA mission to the public and the media.
In fact, the NAVCAM team has gone far above and beyond the call of duty by releasing not just hundreds but *thousands* of their images, in several huge batches. Last week they released their third such batch, more than 1,700 new pictures, and anyone and everyone is able to see them just by going to a special webpage where they are all accessible with just a few clicks of a mouse or taps on a screen. No special software is needed to view or download the images, they’re just there, for anyone and everyone to trawl through, download and look at/play with…
…and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since the most recent batch was released late last week. It’s been great fun to scroll through all the pages devouring the images, spotting familiar ones – and see some spectacular new ones which haven’t been featured on websites, blogs or in magazines.
And boy, there are some breathtaking new views in there!
So, over the past few days I’ve been working on some of those, cropping, sharpening and enhancing them with various image processing programs and websites, the same ones I use when working with images returned by the Mars rovers. I don’t do this for any noble, scientific reason. I’m not trying to discover anything, or reveal hidden details, or anything like that. I don’t try to balance levels, and curves, and tones to create something visually accurate or scientifically useful. All I try to do is make something which at least looks attractive and hopefully looks stunning, or better, and which others might enjoy.
Here, then, are some views of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, created from images posted on the NAVCAM Image Browser. I hope you like them – or some of them. Please click on them to enlarge them.
Thank you for taking the time to look at my pictures – and thank you, NAVCAM team, for sharing the success of ROSETTA, and the beauty of 67P, with us.
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