The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission concluded its study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30, 2016. NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft observed the comet during the final month of the Rosetta mission, while the comet was not visible from Earth. This animation is composed of images from Kepler of the comet.
From Sept. 7 through Sept. 20, the Kepler spacecraft, operating in its K2 mission, fixed its gaze on comet 67P. From the distant vantage point of Kepler, the comet's nucleus and tail could be observed. The long-range view from Kepler complements the closeup view of the Rosetta spacecraft, providing context for the high-resolution investigation Rosetta performed as it descended closer and closer to the comet.
During the two-week period of study, Kepler took a picture of the comet every 30 minutes. The animation shows a period of 29.5 hours of observation from Sept. 17 thru Sept. 18. The comet is seen passing through Kepler's field of view from top right to bottom left, as outlined by the diagonal strip. The white dots represent stars and other regions in space studied during K2's tenth observing campaign.
As a comet travels through space it sheds a tail of gas and dust. The more material that is shed, the more surface area there is to reflect sunlight. A comet's activity level can be obtained by measuring the reflected sunlight. Analyzing the Kepler data, scientists will be able to determine the amount of mass lost each day as comet 67P travels through the solar system.
An animation is available at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21072