Scientists at the European Space Agency received surprising data from the Rosetta spacecraft just before it crash-landed into a comet last year, enabling them to piece together a final image of the comet’s surface.
Rosetta made its slow-motion crash into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30 last year, marking the end of an audacious 12-year mission. Scientists decided to crash-land the probe on the comet because Rosetta’s solar panels wouldn’t have been able to collect enough energy as it flew away from the Sun along 67P’s elliptical orbit.
Experts, however, have used final telemetry from Rosetta before the spacecraft shut down to build a last image of the probe’s touchdown site, dubbed Sais. The image was released Thursday.
“The last complete image transmitted from Rosetta was the final one that we saw arriving back on Earth in one piece moments before the touchdown at Sais,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the OSIRIS camera at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany, in a statement. “Later, we found a few telemetry packets on our server and thought, wow,…