The pioneering Rosetta mission that helped unravel some of the mysteries of comets ended with a bang two years ago — quite literally, as the spacecraft crash-landed on the famous Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after 12 years of gathering unique data and footage.
But its legacy remains in the bounty of snapshots that Rosetta’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) captured during its lengthy mission, and which are bound to reveal even more secrets from space in the years to come.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the spacecraft descended toward comet 67P at a walking pace and kept on collecting data up until its final moments.
Those images, depicting the last sights Rosetta saw before it went silent in the early hours of September 30, 2016, have now been released by the European Space Agency (ESA), which granted the public full access to the entire archive of its Rosetta mission.
Unveiled on June 21, Rosetta’s final images cover a period of time starting from late July 2016 and up until the very last seconds before the mission’s end.
Commenting on the release of this last batch of high-resolution photos, ORISIS principal investigator Holger Sierks voiced his delight at knowing that the footage is finally out there for everyone to enjoy.
“Having all the images finally archived to be shared with the world is a wonderful feeling.”
Some of the greatest snapshots include spectacular views of comet 67P revealing Rosetta’s frantic search for its Philae lander, which in 2014 became the first spacecraft to ever land on a comet hurtling through space at dizzying speeds.
In the OSIRIS photo below, the Philae lander is seen “waving,” as one of its three legs is ” sticking up from behind an obscuring boulder, illustrating the difficulty in spotting the lander on the comet’s chaotic surface,” notes ESA.
Other amazing images taken by the OSIRIS camera show what comet 67P looks like up close and personal.
For instance, the photo below, captured on September 2, 2016, was taken from a distance of just 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) from the comet’s surface.
All the images are now available on the ESA online archive. For a quick peek at what to expect, check out the video below, released by the space agency on the same day and which compiles Rosetta’s last images.
Showcasing some of the best moments captured on camera toward the end of the mission, the ESA video shows what happened during Rosetta’s last hours, documenting its descent toward comet 67P and revealing the spacecraft’s final resting place.
The big surprise of the ESA photo release is that Sierks’s team has managed to reconstruct the camera’s final frame, which initially wasn’t even recognized as an actual image.
Included at the end of the video, this absolute last OSIRIS photo was put together from three packets of telemetry data that were found to make up a partial image, notes Astronomy Now.
According to ESA, Rosetta beamed back the data packets as it was closing in on comet 67P, coming within 20 meters (65.6 feet) from its surface.
During its 12-year voyage through space, Rosetta has sent back nearly 100,000 photos, not only of comet 67P — which made headlines in April, when a stunning GIF made out of OSIRIS images revealed a “snowstorm” on the comet’s surface, the Inquisitr reported at the time — but also of Earth, Mars, and two asteroids.
“The final set of images supplements the rich treasure chest of data that the scientific community are already delving into in order to really understand this comet from all perspectives – not just from images but also from the gas, dust and plasma angle – and to explore the role of comets in general in our ideas of solar system formation,” said Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist. “There are certainly plenty of mysteries, and plenty still to discover.”