The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe may have gone offline in 2016, but it provided the public with an unprecedented look at the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. A Twitter user used the raw data provided by Rosetta to create footage of the surface of the comet.
The gif created by the user may only be a few seconds long, but it provides a real glimpse of the surface of a comet.
Comet 67P Footage
To make the gif, the Twitter user used data captured by Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS). Rosetta gathered the raw data on June 1, 2016. Twitter user landru79 made the gif using the still images captured by the probe. Rosetta's images of comet 67P have only been available to the public since March 22.
The scene in the GIF seems like the camera is panning through the middle of a snowstorm. In reality, these are dust from a comet, high-energy particles striking the camera, and stars from the constellation Canis Major. Even though it seems like the probe is sitting on the comet, the images were taken kilometers away from its surface.
ESA's senior science advisor Mark McCaughrean responded to landru79's tweet, explaining why it looked like a snowstorm. McCaughrean said that in the foreground, sun-illuminated dust can be seen. The spacecraft is moving through the dust, which gives it the illusion that it is traversing through a snowstorm.
Rosetta started its mission in 2004 and finished in 2016, when it crash-landed on comet 67P. Rosetta was solar powered. As it followed the comet, it was receiving less sunlight. Scientists decided that it would be better crash the probe into comet 67P instead of waiting and seeing if it could survive a hibernation period.
During its time observing comet 67P, Rosetta was able to document a landslide on the comet. Researchers were able to determine that the landslide was the cause of the plumes of dust and gas typically seen coming from comets.
Landru79 created a second gif that makes it easier to catch the Canis Major constellation in the background. It also makes it easier to see how the comet was moving when the footage was captured.
The first close-up images of a comet came in 1986, during the last time that Halley's Comet completed its orbit near Earth. Those images were also captured by the ESA with its Giotto space probe but at a distance of about 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) away.