Move over, Halley: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko may now be the most famous comet in the cosmos. Comet 67P has been the photogenic subject of many images sent back by the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission. The mission'sby successfully settling onto the surface of the comet last month.
We've seen crags, its weird kidney shape and all sorts of dramatic shadows playing across the comet's surface. One thing all those images have in common is that they're in stark, artsy black and white.
This leaves us with a curious question: what does 67P look like in color? An image accompanying a presentation for an upcoming American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco offers up an intriguing option. The comet may be slightly reddish. The presentation, titled "Color Variegation on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko," is set for December 18, at which point more information on the image is expected to be released.
In the meantime, we're left with some speculation as to what the image depicts. It was captured by the narrow-angle camera of Rosetta's OSIRIS imaging system. The camera is capable of taking images in a wide spectral range, as opposed to the images we've been seeing from Rosetta's navigation camera, which only shoots in black and white. The OSIRIS camera was already responsible for an impressive true-color image of Mars released in 2007.
Some comet-watchers are guessing this new OSIRIS picture is the first true-color image of the comet to be released. However, the ESA has previously described the comet as "extremely dark" and "blacker than coal." The slight blurriness of the image can be attributed to it being a combination of images taken with red, green and blue filters which were then superimposed to create the final reddish image. The blurriness stems from the comet's rotation between exposures.
Rosetta's comet will continue to be a source of fascination. Whether this image depicts what the comet would look like if you happened to be looking at it while riding on Rosetta, it definitely offers up a new perspective on our previously gray-scale viewpoint.
Crave reached out to the ESA for comment on the image, but did not immediately hear back.