Incredible New GIF Shows Cosmic 'Snow' on the Surface of a Comet

By Ryan F. Mandelbaum on at

I think I’m going to let this one speak for itself:

What you’re looking at is the surface of the comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is orbited by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe. The photo comes from Rosetta’s OSIRIS, or Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System. The raw data was collected on 1 June 2016, and posted publicly on 22 March of this year.

Twitter user landru79 processed the GIF from this data release and shared it last night. In the foreground is the comet’s surface (still several kilometres away from the probe), and three kinds of specks. The stars in the background belong to the constellation Canis Major, according to ESA senior advisor Mark McCaughrean. Some of the foreground stuff could be streaks from high-energy particles striking the camera—it’s a charge-coupled device (CCD), so even invisible particles can leave streaks in the results (more on that here). And some could be dust from the comet itself.

Rosetta launched in 2004 and reached the comet in 2014. The 2,000-kilogram spacecraft sent loads of data about the comet back to Earth, helping to create tonnes of incredible images. The probe crashed into the comet’s surface in 2016.

But even after its demise, Rosetta’s data continues to capture our imagination.


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