Video: Watch What's It's Like to Fly Past a Comet in Space—Up Close and Personal
Four years ago, the ESA's Rosetta mission sent the Rosetta spacecraft on a flyby mission to Comet 67p.
It took some breathtaking photos of the 67p and managed to drop the Philae lander on its surface, but the most beautiful images yet may be the ones compiled by Twitter user landru79, who strung together second-by-second photos to create a short looped video that reveals the surreal surface of the comet:
What looks like heavy snowfall in the video is actually a slowly rotating field of stars behind the comet, ice and dust illuminated by the sun, and cosmic rays hitting Rosetta's lens (which cause those white streaks you see).
Otherwise, yes, that's a thousand-foot tall cliff and the desolate surface of a space rock tumbling through space—Comet 67p is actually bigger than Mount Fuji (it's about 2.5 miles wide) and even had house-sized rocks sitting on its surface.
The video above uses photos taken over 25 minutes of flight past the comet, and only covers a small portion of 67p's bulk.
The focus of Rosetta's 2014 mission was to study how the comet changed as it swung close to the sun and became exposed to solar radiation and heat.
To catch up with 67p, the spacecraft had to travel about 4 billion miles—a distance more than half the diameter of our solar system.
That may seem like an awful long way to go to take pictures of a rock, but comets are much more than balls of ice and stone—they can give clues about how our solar system formed.
According to Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientific advisor with the ESA: "The really big questions here are, 'Where do we come from? Where does the solar system we live in come from? How was it put together? How was it assembled? How did the planets get built up individually, and how did water get to this planet that we live on?' "
Three years later, ESA scientists are still published data and photos from the Rosetta mission. Hopefully, we find more gems like the one above.