Nearly a year after it crashed into a comet, the Rosetta spacecraft has given scientists a gift from beyond the grave: the final image of its resting place on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Researchers from the European Space Agency thought they had collected every picture beamed back by the probe during the two years it spent investigating the rubber-ducky shaped comet. But on Thursday they announced the discovery of one more hidden image in Rosetta’s final transmission.
Grainy and blurry, it shows Comet 67P’s cold, rocky surface from about 60-feet above and covers about 10 square feet. The craft’s previous “last image” was taken from about 80-feet above. Together, they show the final moments of humanity’s first visit to a comet.
As the spacecraft deliberately dived toward Comet 67P, Rosetta split this final image into six packets — or units — of data before attempting to send it to Earth. But the transmission was interrupted, and only three data packets made it back to Earth.
When the scientists went back later and reanalyzed the transmission, they stumbled upon the data fragments, which they hoped might be salvageable.