After ten years of travel and a three-year period of deep space hibernation, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite has become the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet—249 million miles away from Earth. The above picture was snapped by Rosetta as it approached comet 67P/CG earlier today; that’s one ugly mug. The plan is to study how the comet changes as it sweeps past the sun.
Rosetta sports a number of instruments that will help the ESA collect unprecedented data on 67P/CG’s makeup. Among the instruments are Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO), an ultraviolet spectrometer named Alice and an Ion and Electron Sensor (IES), which all hail from the U.S.. NASA explained that an instrument like Alice is designed to analyze gases in the comet’s coma, “which is the bright envelope of gas around the nucleus of the comet developed as a comet approaches the sun.”
Comet 67P/CG was specifically picked out for this mission partly due to its trajectory, along with the secrets lying in the comet’s nucleus. Now that Rosetta is in the space rock’s orbit, it will attempt to land a probe on the comet this November, which will drill into the surface. By hitching a ride on the comet as it passes by the sun, scientists say they’ll be able to learn more about the “origin and evolution of our solar system.”