As of January 2014, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft is far in deep space, preparing for its scheduled August arrival at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Taken back in May 2002, this image shows Rosetta being checked in the ESTEC Test Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
One of Rosetta’s massive solar wings is undergoing a deployment test, supported on a rig to allow it to unfurl in Earth gravity instead of weightlessness.
Each made up of five hinged panels, the pair of wings stretches 32 m tip-to-tip from the box-shaped spacecraft. Steerable, they have provided sufficient solar power to allow Rosetta to operate as far as 800 million km from the Sun, further than any previous solar-powered mission. New ‘LILT’ ‘low intensity low temperature’ solar cells were specially designed for the array.
On the top of the spacecraft can be glimpsed Rosetta’s 2.2 m-diameter high-gain antenna, a steerable dish used to return science data to Earth.
The placid appearance of the Sun's surface belies a hot fireball of plasma in constant turmoil. A granular network invisible to the naked eye pervades the solar disc, with cells of hotter and colder plasma popping up, merging and disappearing within only a few hours.
The boundaries between these constantly moving cells are hectic places. Powerful jets of plasma are often launched along the separation lines whenever the cell pattern changes, which may happen as a result of variations in the configuration of the magnetic field – known as ‘magnetic reconnection’.
To learn more about these reconnection jets and the energetic events that cause them, scientists observe the Sun at different wavelengths using a variety of techniques.
This image, which could be mistaken for a piece of abstract art, shows a series of observations performed with the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to study the evolution of reconnection jets on a small patch of the Sun’s surface.
The image shows 60 frames taken with the ultraviolet spectrometer SUMER on SOHO over 10 minutes. The individual frames were taken every 10 seconds, so each row of snapshots corresponds to almost three and a half minutes of observations.
Each frame shows a spectrum of the light coming from a small patch on the solar disc: the height of each frame measures 84 000 km, which is about a sixteenth of the Sun’s diameter.
The bright red and yellow regions in each frame correspond to boundaries between different cells in the granular pattern of the Sun. In the first few frames of the series, the shape of the central bright region is roughly vertical, a sign that the underlying boundary was in a quiet state.
After only a couple of minutes, however, the situation changed dramatically: towards the end of the first row and at the beginning of the second row, the shape of the bright region appears stretched towards the right. This shift is characteristic of a jet of plasma that is receding from the observed boundary at a speed of about 100 km/s.
The following snapshots report how the same boundary went back to a quiescent state, then underwent the launch of a new jet and became quiet once again. These rapid changes, and the powerful events causing them, indicate the highly dynamic nature of the Sun’s atmosphere.
The data shown in this image were collected on 28 March 1996 and this image was featured in the series of images “The Sun as Art” published on the SOHO website.
On Monday, 20 January, 807 million km away, Rosetta is set to wake up from 31 months of deep-space hibernation. Here on Earth, the mission control team will be waiting to catch its signal in the Main Control Room, at ESOC, ESA's Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany.
As Europe's centre of excellence for mission operations, the European Space Operations Centre is home to the engineers that control spacecraft in orbit, manage our global tracking station network and design and build the systems on ground that support missions in space. Since 1967, over 60 satellites belonging both to ESA and the Agency’s partners have been flown from Darmstadt, Germany.
During Rosetta's hibernation, the ground control system was entirely rebuilt and the flight control team recommissioned the facilities as they would with an entirely new mission.
The greatest adventure in the Rosetta saga is about to begin.
More about ESOC
More on operations at ESA
The snow-covered southern Polish city of Kraków is pictured in this image from the Kompsat-2 satellite.
The Vistula River snakes across the top of the image. The part of the river pictured flows from west to east as it winds northwards and empties into the Baltic Sea (not visible).
Kraków sits in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains and has a number of important nature reserves of great ecological value. Dubbed the European Capital of Culture in 2000, the city has an extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and is home to one of the oldest universities in the world: Jagellonian University.
Just north of the river at the centre-left portion of the image is the medieval Old Town or historic central district. The area is home to Europe’s largest market square, along with numerous historic houses, palaces and churches.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978, the Old Town was the centre of Poland’s political life until King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw in the late 1500s.
This image was acquired on 5 February 2010 by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite.
Ten years ago, on 14 January 2004, Mars Express took its very first images of Mars in colour and in 3D.
To mark the occasion, the team produced a fly-through movie of the ancient flood plain Kasei Valles. The movie is based on the 67-image mosaic released as part of the ten-years-since-launch celebrations in June 2013.
The scene spans 987 km in the north–south direction, 19–36°N, and 1550 km in the east–west direction (280–310°E). It covers 1.55 million square kilometres, an area equivalent to the size of Mongolia.
Kasei Valles is one of the largest outflow channel systems on Mars, created during dramatic flood events. From source to sink, it extends some 3000 km and descends 3 km.
Kasei Valles splits into two main branches that hug a broad island of fractured terrain – Sacra Mensa – rising 2 km above the channels that swerve around it. While weaker materials succumbed to the erosive power of the fast-flowing water, this hardier outcrop has stood the test of time.
Slightly further downstream, the flood waters did their best to erase the 100 km-wide Sharonov crater, crumpling its walls to the south. Around Sharonov many small streamlined islands form teardrop shapes rising from the riverbed as water swept around these natural obstacles.
The Planetary Science and Remote Sensing Group at Freie Universität Berlin produced the movie. The processing of the High Resolution Stereo Camera image data was carried out at the DLR German Aerospace Center.
On Friday, 17 January, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain met the press at the traditional start-of-year gathering, providing an overview of ESA’s achievements in 2013 and the challenges ahead in 2014.
From left to right: Fernando Doblas, Head of the ESA Communication Department, Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA Director General and Franco Bonacina, ESA Director General's Spokesperson.
In this new image Hubble peeks into the Coma Cluster, a massive gathering of galaxies located towards the constellation of Coma Berenices. This large cluster is around 350 million light-years away from us and contains over 1000 identified galaxies, the majority of which are elliptical.
The bright, saucer-shaped objects surrounded by misty halos in this image are galaxies, each of them host to many millions of stars. The background of the image is full of distant galaxies, many of them with spiral shapes, that are located much further away and do not belong to the cluster.
Visible in this image are three galaxies within the Coma Cluster: IC 4041 (far left), IC 4042 (centre), and GP 236 (right).
A version of this image was entered into the Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Nick Rose.
Lying along the Hooghly river, Calcutta has over 4 million inhabitants. The Hooghly river shows as a black winding line in this picture that was taken from the International Space Station at night. Calcutta’s centre lies on the Eastern bank of the Hooghly river, with human activity following the river up to the North.
Other features that can be seen at night are the main roads and infrastructure around the city. The 117 road leads South to the Bay of Bengal. The three bridges that cross the Hooghly river can be seen as bars of lights. The Northern-most bridge leads to Calcutta international airport, Netaji Subhash Airport or Dum Dum Airport.
This image was taken with the Nightpod camera-stand that tracks the movement of Earth passing under the International Space Station at 28 800 km/h, keeping any target fixed in the middle of the viewfinder. Standard cameras fixed to Nightpod can take pictures with longer exposure times so astronauts can take sharper pictures of cities at night.
Week in Images
13-17 January 2014