Snow storm on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
At first I thought it was fake, but the source is the European Space Agency and the images are real. You’re seeing a sequence of still photos taken by the Rosetta spacecraft as it orbited Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on June 1, 2016. Individual photos were compiled into a short animation by Twitter user landru79 and reveal a snow storm of flakes of dust and ice boiled off the comet’s surface in the warm sunshine. Off to the right side you can see individual stars move through the frame, and at upper left a star cluster. I suspect it’s the Beehive Cluster in Cancer. The shape is about right and to show up in a relatively short exposure, the cluster has to be bright, which the Beehive is. Because the spacecraft is moving, we see the landscape and stars move along, too.
Same video as above but stabilized to keep the stars fixed in position
The photos were made just 8 miles (13 km) from the comet. There are other fascinating things to see in the all-too-brief animation. Boulders are partially covered in a depth of snow/dust. I can almost imagine pulling on my boots and crunching through the drifts. Most of the swirling streaks are dust and snow but the long, straight trails are from cosmic rays zapping the image sensor.
Off to the left, the cliffs of Hathor are faintly visible by reflected sunlight. I’ve included a different photo taken in better light (above), so you can visualize the scene. I keep playing the video over and over. I’ve never seen anything like it. And now I know why I like comets so much. They remind me of my snowy home.
For a look at individual stills, go to the Rosetta archive image browser.