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ROSETTA sees 67P bursting into life…

Comet 67P is now approaching perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, and the unmanned European Space Agency probe ROSETTA has been taking increasingly stunning images of the activity on the comet as it enters its most active period. For a while now, the ever-reliable NAVCAM team have been sharing with us their views of the comet, releasing almost every day a new image showing jets and plumes of dust and gas shooting out of the comet’s nucleus, like this one…

ESA_Rosetta_NavCam_20150806_LR

The other day the OSIRIS team released a rare but very welcome image of the activity they are seeing in close-up, and predictably the image was snapped up and lapped up by both media and public alike, proof – if any proof is actually needed after all this time – that there’s a real fascination with and hunger for the high resolution views the OSIRIS team are seeing but, mostly, keeping to themselves.

Here’s the image…

Outburst_in_action cropCredit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

I know what springs to mind when you look at that image…

WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSHHHH!!!!!πŸ™‚

That’s one of the most striking images taken during the ROSETTA mission so far, I think, and it shows just how active the comet is. In fact, that image is one of a sequence of images, which together show that this was a short-lived event, a real sploosh of gas and dust spurting out of the nucleus for a brief time before dying away again…

Outburst_in_action

That must have been like a fire extinguisher going off beneath the crust. Imagine standing nearby and seeing that… wow….

It was great to see that image released into the wild, and thanks should go to the OSIRIS team for that, but I remain absolutely baffled by their attitude to image release. For example, there’s a big astronomy event going on in Hawaii at the moment, a meeting of the IAU, at which astronomers from all around the world gather to share their latest data and discoveries, and as you would expect the ROSETTA mission is represented there too. Last night OSIRIS PI Holger Sierks gave a presentation about the most recent findings at 67P, and although I wasn’t able to watch the presentation I was able to follow it, in a way, via Twitter, as people who were there tweeted about it. This particular Tweet caught my eye…

Image1

WOW! OSIRIS is now seeing pieces of the comet breaking off as it approaches perihelion! Other tweets reported that OSIRIS has seen wide-scale surface modification on the comet – i.e. previously-photographed features on its surface have either changed or gone altogether – which bodes well for the weeks ahead, when 67 will really start to wake up. But this image caught my eye too, for a different reason…

CMK7YhaUsAAp8j-

Look at all those empty chairs! Where WAS everyone??? Now, I know that that is probably a huge room, and that talks run parallel at these events, so attendees can’t get to everything, but still…

And I couldn’t help thinking that that picture shows a very basic flaw in the OSIRIS team’s argument that they can’t release images because they fear their work being stolen by other scientists. Because, while some of the people in that room will have been journalists, others were *scientists*, some of them probably the very ones the OSIRIS team are so worried about gazumping them, yet they were perfectly happy to show them images that aren’t being seen elsewhere…

Er, does anyone else think that is just a bit nuts? I mean, if I was a scientist and I was genuinely worried about someone using my images to steal my research out from under my nose, I just wouldn’t show them to *anyone*. I certainly wouldn’t show them to a roomful of my competitors. That’s asking for trouble, surely?

It does rather suggest that, as I have thought all along, the OSIRIS team a) simply does not want to share its images with the media and the public, and b) really doesn’t get the importance of the whole “outreach thing”. They are clearly happy to share their images with fellow scientists, at big conferences, but letting the public see them, by releasing them to the media, seems out of the question. And that’s both wrong, and, frankly, ridiculous. It’s actually shooting themselves in the foot. I mean, look at the recent public and media reaction to the releases of the NEW HORIZONS images, that was fantastic! Imagine how people would react to seeing those OSIRIS images of *pieces of the comet coming off the nucleus*! Imagine the PR boost that would give the ROSETTA mission, and ESA!

I don’t know, I just don’t get it. They just don’t seem to realise how important a part of any space mission outreach and public engagement is. Baffling, seriously.

In an ideal world all the images that have been shown at the IAU event would now be released into the wild, via the ESA website, seeing as they have been seen *in public* at a major international science conference open to the media. But I doubt that will happen.

Go on, OSIRIS team, prove me wrong…πŸ™‚

7 Responses

  1. Well, check out ESA’s Image Archive Browser because there’s something new that you’ll definitely love!

  2. […] heute zum Perihel, ein Audio-Interview mit C-G-Bildverarbeiter M. Malmer, Artikel hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier und hier und eine Amateur-Aufnahme von gestern. Plus Cassinis letzter […]

  3. I hope you were watching the perihelion Hangout (the replay is available on YT if not), Stuart, because I suspect you’ll see much of what you were after there (and more). And those images were all published on our ESA Rosetta blog immediately after.

    • Greetings, Mr. McCaughrean, can you explain as a science advisor of ESA why the OSIRIS team has refused to publish its data to PSA? The nominal period is 6 months, COSIMA, ROSINA published their data gathered until November 2014. Yet for OSIRIS only older images are published, up to 12 june 2014. How long is this going to be? Are Sierks and his team going to sit on these photos indefinitely?

  4. Stu, can you please write another post? Why haven’t you written anything lately?

  5. Stu, are you OK?

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