Amazing GIF Shows What the Surface of a Comet Looks Like


Mosaic of four images taken by Rosetta's navigation camera (NAVCAM) in 2014 at 17.8 miles (28.6 km) from the center of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. (Photo: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0-igo ], via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the coolest things about that fact that the European Space Agency publishes images gathered from outer space online is that anyone is able to view them—and get creative. And thanks to Twitter user landru79, we've got a glimpse of what happens on the surface of a comet. By using a set of 12.5-second exposure photos, he's created a 1 second GIF of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The images were captured by the ESA's Rosetta space probe, which was launched in 2004 and, along with its robotic lander Philae, worked on a detailed study of the comet. Though Rosetta's mission ended in 2016, landru79 took a set of images from 2014 that were recently released and set them in motion, the result looking like an old-time film. Though just one second, the GIF actually covers about 20 minutes of observation.

The still frames were taken about 8 miles away from the Jupiter-family comet, and when strung together it looks like snow is falling on its surface. But, as Mark McCaughrean (Senior Advisor for Science & Exploration at the ESA) points out, we're not actually looking at powdery snow. Spots in the background are actually star clusters passing by as the comet spins. In particular, McCaughrean identified the Canis Major field among those seen in the clip. The streaks seen in the clip are, instead, cosmic rays.

The images were taken at a site on the comet called the Cliffs of Hathor, named after the Egyptian goddess personifying joy and motherhood. The rocky region is filled with boulders made from ice and dust, with cliffs stretching up to almost 3,000 feet. Landru79 mentioned that he may try his hand at a color version of the GIF next. Whatever he cooks up, we'll be waiting to see more of his excellent image processing work in the future.

67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko Comet - Cliffs of Hathor

The 2014 image shows a feature of the Comet 67P/C-G known as the cliffs of Hathor, which are roughly 2,952 feet (900 meters) high. (Photo: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

h/t: [PetaPixel]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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