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Comet 46P/Wirtanen

Date:11.3.1997 Time:16:42 UT Exposure:30m, 10m, 30m
Field of View:6.2' x 4.7' Receiver:5122 + (576x387) CCD Filter:IF 614, RX, IF 390
Instrument: D=2m, f=5.6m Observatory: Pik Terskol, Caucasus Observer:T. Credner, K. Jockers, T. Bonev

© Copyright by the observers

Max-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie

This comet was selected as target for ESA's Rosetta mission. The spacecraft was launched in March 2004, however, after postponement of the initial launch the final destiny did change to Comet 67 P/Churyumov- Gerasimenko. It will be the very first landing on a cometary nuclei to make in situ measurements of the surface. To characterize the comet and set constraints on the spacecraft and experiment design, observations were carried out at Pik Terskol Observatory.

From Colors to Astrophysics:

We observed the cometary H2O+, dust, and neutral CN gas with the filters IF 614, RX, and IF 390. In the above image they are represented in red, green, and blue, respectively. For the first time Wirtanens ion tail (here H2O+) could be shown, visible as straight red diffuse band to the left side (anti-sunward direction). The blue sphere is the very extended neutral CN Coma. In contrast to this, the dust is much more concentrated and dominates the near nucleus region, here seen as yellowish green color. So one result, illustrated with this representative three color image, is that 46P/Wirtanen is dust poor and about 2-3 times less dusty than Comet Halley (T. Credner).
More informations can be found on the special project page of the Max-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie.

  • Article 1998A&A...335L..56J

    This image is also available at:

  • Comet Observation Home Page by Charles S. Morris JPL
  • Rosetta Mission System Design Review 1998 by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, Dornier
  • ESA's Rosetta Gallery
  • ALICE Home Page
  • NEO web site