Elon Musk shared an incredible video on Thursday of a rare glimpse at a natural wonder. The European Space Agency’s Rosetta satellite, which completed its historic 12-year mission in 2016 by landing on a comet, captured the beauty of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko during its orbit. The SpaceX CEO shared an animation of the images created from the space agency’s archives.
A Twitter user called landru79 this week combined a series of 12.5-second exposure photos taken of the 2.5-mile wide comet on June 1, 2016, from around eight miles away from its surface. The orbit started two years prior: Rosetta landed a probe called Philae on the comet’s surface in November 2014, but the agency lost contact after the probe overshot its landing and arrived in the shade, leaving it with 60 hours of battery before shutting off with a lack of solar power. The satellite itself ended its mission in spectacular fashion, crashing into the surface on September 29, 2016 after transmitting its final images of the comet, like the ones seen below. Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger noted that the background particles are stars, while the foreground streaks are illuminated particles and cosmic rays.
The satellite offered some spectacular views of the comet in its final years, but it couldn’t go on for longer. Prior to Rosetta’s end, the agency explained that “Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkos maximum distance from the Sun (over 850 million km) is more than Rosetta has ever journeyed before. The result is that there is not enough power at its most distant point to guarantee that Rosetta’s heaters would be able to keep it warm enough to survive.”
It’s perhaps little wonder that Musk wanted to share the footage with his 21.5 million followers. The tech entrepreneur has a regular habit of sharing his favorite scenes from space, like in November 2017 when he responded to images from NASA’s Curiosity rover captured on Mars. Musk is currently gearing up to send humans further than they’ve ever journeyed before, with a trip to Mars scheduled for 2024.
Rosetta was impressive, but it could pale in comparison to what comes next: the agency is teaming up with NASA for the launch of a Solar Orbiter in February 2019. The mission should offer scientists the chance to study solar corona in close-up detail.
Rosetta may have met its end on the surface of a giant space rock, but its legacy hasn’t been forgotten.