While sifting through images taken by the Rosetta spacecraft of Comet 67P, an amateur British astronomer has uncovered a previously unknown vertical cliff that looks like something right out of Mordor.

The original image was captured by Rosetta's NavCam at a distance of 20.1 km from the center of the comet on December 10.

But it was Stuart Atkinson who noticed the one kilometer (0.62 mile) cliff. As he writes on his blog:

[As] soon as I saw that image I could see one area was just crying out to be cropped and turned into one of my landscape views – there was our best view yet of the towering cliff face on the inside of the small lobe…Looking at that part of the image I could see that with a little work (which turned out to be a LOT of work, but never mind!) those cliffs could be isolated and their true magnificence brought out. So, that's what I started to do, and some time later this is what I came up with...

Looking at the foot of the cliff, you can see some relatively smooth terrain dotted by boulders, some of them as large as 20 meters (65 feet) across.


It may look daunting, but owing to the extreme low gravity on the comet, a human could actually survive the jump.

Atkinson's processed image earned him NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day yesterday. In response, he said it wouldn't have been possible if the ESA didn't make its photos available to the public. In a follow-up blog post he writes:

I am so, so happy about that, seriously. Not just because personally it is nice to have an image which took a long time to make being seen and shared so widely now, but mainly because it shows why the ESA decision to regularly release navcam images from the ROSETTA mission was the right one to take – it has allowed people like me to use ROSETTA images for Outreach, and to promote the mission to the media and the public. Every reTweet and every FB share and comment proves how much interest in the mission there is out here. People are blown away by that image and the view of the cliffs it shows, so thank you AGAIN to ESA for letting us see the navcam images and allowing us to use and play with them!

Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0/Stuart Atkinson