The Rosetta Mission, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and artist Ekaterina Smirnova

By Dr. Bonnie J. Buratti, Rosetta Project Scientist, with Ekaterina Smirnova

Where art and science meet, that’s where you’ll find Ekaterina Smirnova, an artist who has made extraordinary representations of Rosetta’s comet that are inspired by the scientific data. Ekaterina presented her work at the European Space Agency’s ESLAB #50 symposium “From Giotto to Rosetta” in the Netherlands in March of this year, and it was also on display at ESA’s offices in Noordwijk. Her work will be shown at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences (which is held jointly this year with the European Planetary Sciences Community) October 17-21, 2016 in Pasadena, California.


Ekaterina explores the comet through different media: large scale paintings, ceramic sculptures, music, and even augmented reality. In large watercolors, Ekaterina depicts the sometimes vivid changes that occur in 67P/ and other comets during their journeys from the cold regions of space into the inner Solar System where they are heated by the Sun. The materials formulated for creating the artworks are specially made to be close to Rosetta’s scientific findings. For example, the water used for painting is composed of the right fraction of “heavy water”, the rare form of water that has a neutron in the nucleus of its hydrogen atom. Comet 67P/ has three times more of this material than is found in terrestrial water, so Ekaterina had to develop a special chemical technique to increase its amount. The dark paints used to represent the comet’s dusty surface were hand-mixed pigments to achieve 67/P’s low albedo of only 6%.

Ceramic sculptures, artistically representing rock-models of 67P/, depict the comet during its active stage. Stoneware clay and the glaze both included iron oxide; iron is common in meteorites and it is also present (albeit in minor quantities) in comets. This iron imparted a black, slightly metallic look to the comet, just as it appears in the Rosetta images. The porcelain white cones, representing jets, are reminiscent of icicles, to suggest water found on the comet in its solid form.


As Ekaterina states in her blog of May 4, 2016 (

"I believe that we are all artists and scientists naturally, since childhood. But not many of us continue to pursue those faculties. Yet, if you are a scientist, you are a dreamer. If you are an artist, you have an inquisitive mind. Both, an artist and a scientist have much in common, why would we not want to make this connection stronger?"


Ekaterina has also created a piece of art that is inspired by the LISA Pathfinder (LPF) mission of the European Space Agency that explores gravitational waves. The artwork took its shape after Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga, LPF project manager, explained to Ekaterina the essence of the project: gold-platinum cubes freefalling through the fabric of space. The core of the LPF spacecraft also became the focus of Ekaterina’s ceramic sculpture. The graceful ceramic folds of the sculpture represent the mysterious gravitational waves.

Art, poetry, and science, all in one.

References and further information:

Smirnova, E. (2016). 67P in Art and Science. Astronomy and Geophysics, October, 2016. (