In the week that we celebrate a year that Rosetta has been at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and mark their passage through perihelion, we are delighted to present a new interactive tool that allows you to explore the shape and surface of this intriguing comet.

View Rosetta’s comet is based on images taken with Rosetta’s navigation camera, NAVCAM. Since November 2014, these images have been released under a Creative Commons license, which allows you to share them with whomever you like, to publish them on your blog or elsewhere, as well as to adapt, process, and modify them.


Screen shot from the View Rosetta’s comet interactive tool.

As of 30 July this year, more than 6800 NAVCAM images are available to download from ESA’s Archive Image Browser, and that number will increase with the regular addition of many more as Rosetta’s mission continues.

From reactions that we’ve had on this blog, via social media, and meeting people at events we know that many of you are intrigued and fascinated by Comet 67P/C-G — as we are.

As far back as August last year, when the unusual shape of this comet became clear, we saw the need for an interactive way of exploring the surface of the comet. More recently, we started to wonder about what could be done with the Rosetta images and 3D computer models of the shape of the comet.

A conversation that started on a Friday evening as a “Wouldn’t it be great if we had an interactive way to view the comet?” set our colleague Oliver Jennrich thinking, and by the following Monday morning he had come up with a simple prototype tool using a shape model that had been developed by Mattias Malmer an image processing expert and space enthusiast living in Sweden. Mattias used publicly available NAVCAM images to generate his model and then made it available via his own website.

With this basic tool, it was possible to zoom in and out, and rotate and pan across the comet. This was already better than anything we had in the Rosetta communications team, but as soon as we starting playing with it more ideas started to flow.

Could we add the geological regions that have been identified on the comet’s surface? Could we tie this tool in with the huge repository of NAVCAM images in the Archive Image Browser? Could we include other shape models?

Over the next few weeks, Oliver implemented a number of new features, including a texture map made by Mattias to add the regions identified by Nicolas Thomas and colleagues in their scientific analysis of 67P/C-G.

Then Oliver added a trail of points along Rosetta’s trajectory to show where images of the comet have been taken by NAVCAM. That made it possible to link the tool to the NAVCAM database, to view and allow downloads of the corresponding images.


View Rosetta’s comet interactive tool provides access to some of the best NAVCAM images in the ESA Archive Image Browser.

With subsequent support from João Martinho Moura and colleagues at Science Office, who also worked on our Where is Rosetta? tool, the code was optimised and the interface fine-tuned. Most recently, a separate ESA NAVCAM shape model, developed by the ESA Flight Dynamics team, was made available for release and has been added to the tool as an option.

You can find more detailed information about the tool here. (Note that the viewer does require a WebGL-enabled browser and graphics card.)

But this is just the beginning! It’s clear to us that there is a lot of scope to develop the tool further, but we want to make this ‘beta’ version available to you now, at the time of perihelion, to enjoy and try out.

We aim to make further releases ourselves, but the code is available as open source, so feel free to take it and develop it further — we hope you do!

Share with us your comments about your experience, including your possible enhancements of the viewer, or new ways that you have found to use the images and shape models, via the comments block below.

Stay tuned for more NAVCAM images and updates to this tool.

And don’t forget to join us later today, at 15:00 CEST, for a Google Hangout with Rosetta mission experts as we celebrate perihelion.