Side Note

Stand on the surface of a comet

At first glance, it looks like the valley of a sloped mountain ridge on a winter night. Snowflake-like specks coast through darkness, like a snowglobe of an Ansel Adams photograph.

But it’s actually the surface of a comet.

The comet, named Churyumov–Gerasimenko, is just 4.5 cubic miles in volume, which completes an oval-like orbit overlapping the paths of Mars, Earth, Jupiter every 6.5 years. The images were taken by the ESA spacecraft Rosetta in June of 2016, which spent 10 years chasing the comet before reaching it in 2014. Rosetta crashed into the surface of Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2016, but not before capturing invaluable data about the comet, and of course, spectacular images.

An image of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

An image of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Twitter user @landru79 made the gif by grabbing images from the European Space Agency archive. After controlling for the different heights of the images and monkeying around with the color filters, they were able to create a flipbook-like effect. It gives the user the effect of standing on the surface of the comet, taking a few steps to the right, and gazing into the sky.

According to a tweet from Mark Mccaughrean, an advisor to the European Space Agency, the snow-flake like effect is a combination of comet dust and stars: the faster moving specks are likely dust, while the slower-moving ones in the distance are star systems.