The spacecraft is in orbit around the comet, and was directly in front of the sun when it took the snap. The photo was released February 14, and was taken by Rosetta’s Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (Osiris). At the time the probe was only 3.6 miles above the surface of the comet, writes Ana Verayo for China Topix.
Such a small distance allowed for a great picture resolution, before the orbiter moved further away from the surface of the comet. Ekkehard Kührt of the German Aerospace Center claims that the photo allows us to see the surface of the comet in great detail, and recognize variations in its surface.
Scientists study these differences in order to better understand the comet. One interesting feature of the comet is a fissure in its surface, which researchers say could continue to grow wider until the comet potentially splits in two.
The fissure can be seen directly below the spacecraft, but the angle of the photo means it is is impossible to tell how deep it reaches into the body of the comet. Astronomers have taken to calling the crack “Imhotep” in honor of the ancient Egyptian architect and engineer.
Rosetta the history maker
Last November the Rosetta probe released the Philae lander, which touched down successfully on the surface of the comet. It remains on the other side of its body than the area which can be seen in this photo.
The lander is currently hibernating, but scientists hope to recover the data and images that it has recorded since its landing. It is hoped that the information will afford researchers greater knowledge of the composition of the comet’s icy nucleus, and perhaps even reveal how planets and other celestial bodies were formed.
The ESA plans to release its findings by April. Rosetta was launched over 10 years ago and made history as the first probe to orbit a comet. Prior to catching up with comet 67P in August 2014, Rosetta also visited Mars and two other asteroids.