The European Space Agency’s historic Rosetta spacecraft is now getting a close-up view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it nears the Sun and comes to life over the next few months. To supplement its in-flight observations, the Rosetta mission has also requested ground-based observers to monitor the comet’s brightness and behavior. So Slooh members have recently created a program to collaborate with professional astronomers to study Comet 67P using our robotic telescopes in Chile and the Canary Islands.
Why bother observing a comet when Rosetta is already so close? Because ground-based observations can give a “big picture” view of the comet to complement the up-close measurements from Rosetta. Amateur astronomers are often the first to observe sudden changes in a comet’s brightness or behavior which can alert professional astronomers to take a closer look with more powerful ground-based instruments.
Rosetta arrived at the comet in August of 2014 and deployed the Philae lander which touched down on the comet last November. Comet 67P reaches perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, in mid-August 2015, so the next few months are expected to be eventful. For Earth-bound observers, the comet has been lost in the Sun’s glare for several weeks but emerges this month in the constellations Aquarius and Pisces. The comet is slowly brightening from 16th magnitude and lies well within the reach of Slooh telescopes and imaging equipment.