While earthbound scientists have been observing Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko for years now, the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe, which was dispatched in 2004 to map and study the comet, caught the first glimpse of its target in only the last few weeks. Rosetta is now about 163 million kilometers from the comet and just under 3 years from rendezvous, scientists at the Max Planck institute for Solar System Research reported  today. The comet, which is now about one-millionth as bright as the faintest star visible with the naked eye, can't be discerned in wide-field images taken by Rosetta's instruments. (The path of the comet across the higher-resolution images in this video is denoted by moving red circles.) But by repeatedly taking 15-minute exposures of the star field, subtracting the fixed stars and then superimposing the images, the researchers generated an image of their ultimate target. If successful, Rosetta will become the first mission to land on a comet when it links up with Churyumov-Gerasimenko in May 2014 and drops a lander onto its surface. It will then orbit the comet and collect data until and beyond its closest approach to the sun in August 2015.
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