NASA's Kepler Gets the 'Big Picture' of Comet 67P
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
October 7, 2016
On Sept. 30, the European Space Agency concluded its Rosetta mission and
the study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. During the final month of
the mission, NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft had a unique opportunity
to provide a "big picture" view of the comet as it was unobservable from
Earth. Ground-based telescopes could not see comet 67P, because the comet's
orbit placed it in the sky during daylight hours.
>From Sept. 7 through Sept. 20, the Kepler spacecraft, operating in its
K2 mission, fixed its gaze on comet 67P. From the distant vantage point
of Kepler, the spacecraft could observe the comet's core and tail. The
long-range global view of Kepler complements the close-in view of the
Rosetta spacecraft, providing context for the high-resolution investigation
Rosetta performed as it descended closer and closer to the comet.
During the two-week period of study, Kepler took a picture of the comet
every 30 minutes. The animation shows a period of 29.5 hours of observation
from Sept. 17 through Sept. 18. The comet is seen passing through Kepler's
field of view from top right to bottom left, as outlined by the diagonal
strip. The white dots represent stars and other regions in space studied
during K2's tenth observing campaign.
As a comet travels through space, it sheds a tail of gas and dust. A comet's
activity level can be obtained by measuring the reflected sunlight. Analyzing
the Kepler data, scientists will be able to determine the amount of mass
lost each day as comet 67P travels through the solar system.
NASA Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, managed
Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation
operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric
and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For more information on Kepler and the K2 missions, go to:
For more information on Rosetta, go to:
News Media Contact
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Written by Michele Johnson
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