The Rosetta spacecraft captured a remarkable image of Comet 67P: the rocky, icy, alien surface with a mysterious shadow falling over it — Rosetta’s own shadow.
The spacecraft was able to snap the most detailed image yet of the comet since arriving to orbit the celestial body late last year, coming so close to the giant rock that it was able to take a picture of its own shadow, according to an ABC News report.
The photo, taken during a flyby Valentine’s Day that brought it within just 6 kilometers of Comet 67P, was released recently by the European Space Agency. The resolution of the image was pretty detailed: it could zoom in to the point that one pixel covered just four and a third inches.
The sun was aligned perfectly behind Rosetta during the shot, which enabled the spacecraft to capture its own shadow, according to the ESA. However, it was only a partial eclipse, which is why the shadow was a bit blurry.
The cheeky ESA Rosetta Mission Twitter feed posted the photo yesterday, with the comment: “Does this count as a #selfie? Imaged my own shadow on surface of #67P during 6km flyby!”
The comet is heading toward its inner arc in orbit with the sun, and will reach its closest point to the sun on August 13. Rosetta has already made history by deploying the Philae lander to the surface of the come tback in November after a journey that lasted more than a decade. Philae collected reams of data before it ran out of energy; scientists are hoping that the probe, which is sitting somewhere on the comet, will reawaken for at least one last time as it nears the sun.
It takes about 26 minutes and 46 seconds for a signal sent from the Rosetta spacecraft to reach Earth, according to the ESA.
Scientists have been trying to learn about the comet, which is shaped like a rubber duck, in order to learn more about how comets, stars, and planets form.
As the comet gets closer to the sun, it will give off a greater amount of debris, meaning the Rosetta spacecraft will have to keep a greater distance from it.