May 26, 2022

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The European Space Agency is looking for people with an attention to detail to unravel the secrets of Comet Rosetta

The European Space Agency is looking for people with an attention to detail to unravel the secrets of Comet Rosetta

Good at “identifying differences”? Then ESA is looking for you!

In 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For two years, the spacecraft closely studied the comet and witnessed many changes in the landscape: from collapsing cliffs and forming craters to shifting dust patterns and rolling rocks. Now scientists are looking for help. Because the probe has collected so much data that the European Space Agency (ESA) can use all the extra eyes to unravel the mysteries of Comet Rosetta.

superficial changes
About halfway through Rosetta’s flight, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was closest to the Sun; A moment known as perihelion. Then the comet moved away from our parent star, and the surface of Comet Rosetta lit up in different ways. This means that the spacecraft was able to collect a lot of data, including interesting surface changes. And scientists are very interested in that. This could help investigate the mechanism by which a comet sheds its outer layers when sunlight heats the ice and dust around its core.

complex task
But scientists are now faced with a “well-being problem”. Rosetta collected so much data that mapping all the surface changes has become a very complicated task. “The Rosetta archive contains a huge amount of data collected during the unusual mission that has only been partially explored,” said study researcher Bruno Mirren.

ESA is looking for you!
So the European Space Agency is looking for help. yours. The space agency is inviting volunteers to participate in a comic game called Spotting the Differences. Anyone who wishes can browse through images collected during ESA’s Rosetta mission to help scientists reveal how the surface of a comet evolved as it orbited the sun. “In recent years, astrophotographers and space enthusiasts have noticed changes and signs of activity in Rosetta images,” explains Mirren. “However, with the exception of a few cases, it was not possible to link these events to superficial changes, mainly due to the lack of human eyes looking at the entire data set. We definitely need more eyes!”

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This is how it works
How it works? Each time you’ll see a pair of images collected by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera showing the surface of Comet 67P before and after perihelion. This means that you see images from roughly the same area side by side. Then it is up to you to identify the differences and changes; From moving dust on a large scale to bits of comets that moved or disappeared.

Displacement of a 30 m wide boulder at a distance of approximately 140 m. Photo: Van Maari et al. (2017)

Sometimes it may be necessary to zoom in or out several times, or rotate the images to see changes at different scales and to take a closer look at the iconic comet.

Ultimately, scientists hope to produce detailed maps of changes and active regions on the comet’s surface. Scientists will then be able to correlate the comet’s activity with changes in its surface. In this way, they want to reveal more secrets of Rosetta’s comet, as well as many other secrets. “What did a primordial comet look like? Nobody knows,” said researcher Jean-Baptiste Vincent. “But with the help of volunteers, we can describe how comets evolved and understand the physics driving these changes: then we will be able to trace the comet evolution movie back to the origin of the solar system.”

Everyone can participate for free (click here† You don’t need to register, install an app or software, or have any scientific experience whatsoever. Simply spot the differences between pairs of pictures whenever you have the time – whether it’s five minutes while waiting for the bus or in the evening. It’s your decision. Good luck and God bless you!

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