Last Photo Revealed From Spacecraft That Struck Comet 300 Million Miles Away
Scientists released the last photograph taken from the Rosetta spacecraft before it crashed into a comet 300 million miles away.
The image provides the closest view of a comet humanity has ever witnessed. The spacecraft snapped the last photo when it was just 60 feet from the comet, according to the European Space Agency.
The grainy and blurry photo shows the rugged terrain of the comet strewn with giant boulders.
The Rosetta spacecraft crashed into Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko almost a year ago, but scientists discovered the last photo much later and released it to the public in late September.
The spacecraft sent the last image in a series of six packets, but only three made it back to Earth. The software on Earth missed the last transmission, but scientists who were revisiting the data noticed it on the server and used it to create the image.
“We found a few telemetry packets on our server and thought, wow, that could be another image,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the spacecraft’s OSIRIS camera at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research.
The scientists reconstructed the three packets into an image, which, though not perfect, still had enough detail for a striking up-close view of the giant space rock. The image covers an area of about 10 square feet.
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is shaped peculiarly like a rubber ducky. The Rosetta spacecraft followed the comet for two years as the two orbited the sun, collecting a wealth of images and data.
Rosetta crashed into the comet deliberately. The last known image before September’s unveiling was taken from 80 feet above the surface.
The Rosetta spacecraft journeyed through space for 10 years before it arrived within 62 miles of the comet in 2014. The satellite then orbited the comet for two years before finally crashing into it in September 2016.
On the final descent, Rosetta had the opportunity to study the comet’s gas, dust, and plasma environment close to the surface. It also took a series of high-resolution images before going offline.
“Thanks to a huge international, decadeslong endeavor, we have achieved our mission to take a world-class science laboratory to a comet to study its evolution over time, something that no other comet-chasing mission has attempted,” said Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s director of science.
“The mission has spanned entire careers, and the data returned will keep generations of scientist busy for decades to come.”