A set of stunning images available for download shows what it's like to ride up close and personal to a comet.
Some 210 images that the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe took of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken between July 2014 and September 2016, are on the agency's "Space in Images" site. Users can download the whole set and get a look at what Rosetta and its Philae lander saw as they approached the comet.
Rosetta reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August of 2014, and then maneuvered to go into orbit within about 19 miles (30 kilometers) of the object, ESA officials said in a statement. In November of that year, it released the Philae lander module, which successfully landed on the comet. But Philae ended up in a small crevasse, which denied it enough solar power to establish full communication with the probe, though it was able to contact Earth a few times. Rosetta itself stayed in orbit around the comet until September 2016, when ESA ended the probe's mission by sending it on a collision course with 67P. [Philae Comet Lander's Big Bounce Captured in Amazing Photos]
The downloadable image sequence starts on Aug. 6, 2014, as Rosetta approached the comet, and also includes "farewell" images as the probe separated from the lander module. It's also possible to view the pictures as a movie. Seeing the images that way shows the comet releasing visible gas and dust. Thousands of Rosetta's comet images are available here.
Some of the pictures show the close-ups of the surface — the first such pictures ever taken of a comet by a space probe, snapped from only a few miles above the surface. The pattern of close-in shots and wide-angle views illustrates Rosetta's orbit around comet 67P, which was highly elliptical, enabling it to get both kinds of pictures. Some images even show the spaceraft's shadow on the comet's surface.
The last images in the set are the ones Rosetta took just before it hit the comet on Sept. 30, 2016.