Communicating Astronomy with the Public: Rosetta special

CapJcoverWe’re delighted to announce a special issue of the “Communicating Astronomy with the Public” journal, which provides exclusive behind-the-scenes insights into the outreach surrounding the Rosetta Mission.

Including articles written by ESA’s communication team behind the competitions, cartoons, and social media campaigns, and reviews from external journalists and documentary film-makers following this iconic mission.

The table of contents is listed below.

Read the full journal, free online here.

Explained in 60 Seconds: Why Visit a Comet?
(Emily Baldwin)

The Strategy and Implementation of the Rosetta Communication Campaign
(Markus Bauer, Mark McCaughrean, Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin)

How a Cartoon Series Helped the Public Care about Rosetta and Philae
(Claudia Mignone, Emily Baldwin, Karen S. O’Flaherty, Anne-Mareike Homfeld, Markus Bauer, Mark McCaughrean, Sebastian Marcu, Carlo Palazzari)

Behind the Scenes of the Discovery Channel’s Rosetta Mission Documentary Special
(Shelley Ayres)

Ambition: A Risky Adventure in Science Communication
(Mark McCaughrean)

“Hello, World!” Harnessing Social Media for the Rosetta Mission
(Emily Baldwin, Claudia Mignone, Daniel Scuka, Anne-Mareike Homfeld, Karin Ranero Celius, Erica Rolfe, Maria Bennett, Andreas Schepers, Karen S. O’Flaherty, Markus Bauer, Mark McCaughrean)

Using Competitions to Engage the Public: Lessons Learnt from Rosetta
(Karen S. O’Flaherty, Emily Baldwin, Claudia Mignone, Anne-Mareike Homfeld, Daniel Scuka, Andreas Schepers, Manuela Braun, Fulvia Croci, Livia Giacomini, Nathalie Journo, Markus Bauer, Mark McCaughrean)

Live Blogging Science News: The Rosetta Mission
(Stuart Clark)

An Historic Encounter: Reviewing the Outreach around ESA’s Rosetta Mission
(Dirk Lorenzen)




  • ianw16 says:

    On the Rosetta blog:
    “That said, it must be noted that many individual discussions are dominated by a recurring group of 10 to 20 extremely active commenters.”

    You know you’ll miss us when we’re gone! 🙂

    • emily says:


      • A. Cooper says:


        You don’t have to let go of us when the mission ends! I was hoping the blog would carry on for a very long extended period afterwards in order to report on newly published papers. Perhaps years! And of course, the comments would need to remain switched on because the Rosetta blog just wouldn’t be the Rosetta blog without ‘the team’ duelling to the last.

        So, will you be soldiering on through 2017 and beyond with updates?

        • emily says:

          Of course we will still continue to report on the science results of the mission for many years (decades?) to come, as usual via our main platforms and/or – but how long we will keep the blog open for commenting after the operational end of the mission is to be discussed! 🙂

  • Kamal says:

    This is the first and so far the only blog with which I have communicated over an extended period.

    I have been interested in astronomy since my schooldays. I have watched several naked-eye comets, notably Hyakutake going around the north pole on the night of its closest approach to Earth. I have been writing science for schoolchildren for a couple of decades now. So that I was attracted by a visit to a comet, by the grandeur of the mission, and by a blog attempting to communicate the science, is no surprise. But what has kept my interest for over a year and a half now?

    The question “what is a comet?” is one of the open problems of astronomy. Directly dealing with this challenge has gripped me. Many blog posts deal with published papers which elucidate this question in some way. I appreciate the frank way in which some of the authors say that they did not expect something they saw in the data, and how they struggled to come up with the explanation which they did. I think all the people active on this blog have been impressed by these aspects (some not as positively as I have). Of course the comet itself has kept the suspense going, coming up with new tricks every now and then.

    The maneuvers that a spacecraft must go through and
    the dangers that it experiences have never before been brought forth to me so vividly. It is not like a film with human actors as astronauts. Although I enjoy the cartoon characterizations, I find them more a sideshow. I identify more with the mission engineers and the questions (which I imagine) they face as they manipulate things from afar:

    how does one get into orbit? how does one plan to take up closeup pictures? how does one fly over a jet? how does one look for a bow shock? how does one go behind into the tail?

    The landing of Philae was the epitome of all of us going through this kind of imagination. The way the team responded to the unexpected turn of events I consider one of the great feats of recent times.

    I like maps. That we are discovering a new world with manifold regions I find fascinating. On one hand they look alien. On the other hand, one can imagine one is on some barren part of the Earth. It all looks like rock, but it is nothing like rock, that is amazing.

    I find myself at an inbetween level of communication: there are conversations going on with far more understanding than I have, and I enjoy learning from them. At times I feel people have understood less than me, and I try to write what I think I have figured out. This aspect of receiving as well as sending out has kept me involved in communicating with the other bloggers and with the moderators.

  • It’s nice to read Shelley’s tale about her movie. We’ve shared some exciting moments filming in Toulouse or Darmstadt, as I was part of a french filming crew, for the documentary “Rosetta comet chaser, a travel to the origins of life”
    An awardwinning film.. And we’re still filming to produce a new film for 2017 about Rosetta !

  • Dave says:


    The Blog has been fantastic, like Karmal I have never stayed the course before, and I still look forward to the further releases of information.

    The early feelings of disappointment of thinking we were not getting data has completely gone, how could we ask for more?

    The management of the blog to keep it polite and the contributions from people with vastly different knowledge of physics has been a hoot, especially with the contribution from some of the team members and professional physicists, plus all the others.

    The vast amount of conflicting theories that have been aired good or bad has made it easily the most interesting blog I have ever been on.
    Congratulations to the whole team for keeping us under control and allowing some lively exchanges, its easily the best managed blog I’ve been on.

    Following a bit longer yet but Well done

  • emily says:

    Thank you for the kind comments everyone, we appreciate the feedback, and your continued support!

  • I agree. As a non-scientist I have been really impressed at the commitment to sharing science from the Rosetta mission in such an accessible way. The Outreach work has been outstanding – as the CAP special shows. As a storyteller and poet, I’ve found the resources on this blog invaluable in researching my own poetic account of the adventure – Philae’s Book of Hours. I hope it continues. The articles above show a really innovative communications team at work who match the commitment and resourcefulness of the ESA scientists.

  • Kamal says:

    “Furthermore, the mission scientists and operators have cited the blog as the first place they look for updates on aspects of the mission that are outside their own areas of expertise.”

    Emily: Interesting to see that the blog serves as an internal means of communication as well. That only enhances its credibility to us outsiders.

    When a plan is made, say to make an expedition to the tail, there must be pros and cons being considered. Perhaps one plan comes at the cost of some other plan. Could some of these dialogues be presented in a forum like this? This is a little tricky since it involves the feelings of different teams, but you could try it. If it works, we would have a wonderful (moderated) public record of the decisions taken during a scientific enterprise.

  • logan says:

    “The 1.39 million views of the Rosetta blog on 12 November, and a total of 5.5 million views throughout the month of November, are the highest counts ever achieved on an ESA blog for any topic to date.”.

    From all the follow-ups of the Mission, Little Philae was publicly perceived as a Persona. [Are more humanized instrument interfaces and drones planned within future Missions?]

    To the Blog, especially hurting were also Star-Tracker and OSIRIS public status Issues. As a whole, for a Mission this unprecedented, and being at this advanced time of the Agenda, the scars are surprisingly few. ROSETTA Out-Reach is highly successful.

  • logan says:

    “…the mission scientists and operators have cited the blog…”.

    Very flattered about OUR resident scientists. 🙂

  • logan says:

    “Working together, we have demonstrated the possibility and immense value of achieving global impact by providing live feeds and real-time social media reporting, even for — and perhaps especially for — high- risk events when the successful outcome of an activity is not certain.”

    Fully agree, Emily..

    Working together we learn together. [And hopefully we commit together a little more].

    “Exposing risk and vulnerability is part of human nature, and whatever the outcome, the emotional experience can be related to, be it tension, stress or the anxiety of an unknown situation, or the jubilation and joy of shared success for an achievement.”

    Being my view that discovery is the most trilling of human endeavors. Us public -at times- apparent less commitment due to a lack of shared culture and language.

  • logan says:

    “Why Visit a Comet?” Is an Out-Reach Piece showing mastery..

  • Daniel says:

    I haven’t commented here in a while, but I just have to praise the PR efforts done with Rosetta. Most ESA missions remain quite anonymous. Of course part of it is that this is a mission exploring something new during a short timespan. It’s easier to keep interest going than it is for, say, Mars Express where there are several other spacecrafts and which has been orbiting the planet for quite a while. As pretty images is probably the easiest part of good PR when it comes to space missions something like, probably now burnt up, Venus Express also has it harder having to deal with an impenetrable cloud cover. Anyway, that wasn’t meant to take away anything from your efforts here, congratulations!
    Just to add I’m also overjoyed about the OSIRIS image of the day, especially now as we are closer again. Using the model to show the viewpoint on some of the images is a nice touch. All of this along with the Rosetta NOW complements the blog nicely.

    If I’m allowed to critique some things however, then it’s that sometimes it could seem a bit quiet on the science results. In itself that’s very understandable, to do it correctly takes time especially as you don’t want to use only short term observations as foundation for your results. But from a PR perspective even speculation could be fine, although I can see that backfiring as well so perhaps not?
    The other part is that you don’t always get a sense on what is planned for the mission and its objectives in the near term are. What Kamal is talking about is one example. As an example from myself right now I’d like to know more about how the final phases of the mission is planned out. Will the final downwards spiral be a quick affair or will it be an slow descent where we will get very close-up images (~1km) for a longer period of time? How about some of the other instruments, do all of them really get any big benefit from getting close? Of course, just as with the science results, there are understandable reasons as to why very specific long-term plans aren’t posted. After all it depends on the dynamic behaviour of the comet and priorities are affected by this along with the status of the orbiter itself.
    That’s not to say you haven’t done either of those things, just that in my opinion more of it would have been/be nice. Good work either way! I hope we see something along the same lines with ExoMars, but at the same time I hope they manage to survive long enough to get a bit boring, just like Mars Express (sorry MEX, love the VMC!) 😉

    (As an aside which doesn’t have to to with Rosetta: will the next time we hear anything more extensive about Gaia be only after the first release catalogue is done?)

    • Claudia says:

      Dear Daniel,
      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      As for the science results, there have been plenty of posts on the Rosetta blog (and articles on the ESA web pages) about results obtained by the mission over the past months, based on published scientific papers.

      Concerning the final phases of the missions, you can find some general Q&A here:
      The teams are still working on the details of the end-of-mission scenario and we will write about that when it is finalised.

      With best wishes

      • Daniel says:

        Thank you.

        Indeed, I did say that the things I critiqued were things you were already doing to some degree. Much better than what ESA missions have done in the past as well. The posting of science results that you mention is one of those things that have been very nice to get.

        I just think that it could potentially done to an even higher degree, although I understand that might be difficult to actually achieve in practice due to a wide variety of reasons.

        Good luck with making a nice finish for Rosetta later this year! (and the science results that will likely follow for years…)

      • Kamal says:

        Daniel: Nasa/JPL seems to be doing some blogging recently, see

Comments are closed.