Two weeks ago, the ESA made history by landing a spacecraft on a comet. The spacecraft, named Philae, was carried to Comet 67P by a larger space probe named Rosetta.

Determining where Philae would land was a big step in this mission. Many attributes about the comet, including its topography, were taken into account. To help in this process, the ESA derived a 3D model of the comet’s surface, and the data (made up of over 30,000 measurements) was recently released.

The images above use ESA data to model the surface of 67P. By adjusting lighting and orientation, actual photos taken by Rosetta (images 3 and 5) can be reproduced.

You can play around with the model yourself!

Either use the code below in Mathematica or on the Wolfram Programming Cloud (with a free account), or play with the model online by clicking here*.

*This link will expire on Dec 23, 2014, after which you’ll have to upload the .obj file directly to the online viewer.

Mathematica code:

objLink =
comet = Import[objLink, "OBJ"];
pts = Import[objLink, {"OBJ", "VertexData"}];
ListSurfacePlot3D[pts, MaxPlotPoints -> 20,
    Mesh -> All, MeshStyle -> Opacity[0.4]]
Show[comet, Background -> Black,
    Lighting -> {{"Directional", LightGray, {-7, -10, 10}}}]

Additional sources: [1] [2] [3]

Images 3 & 5: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0