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Found: The Last, Hidden Image That Rosetta Sent Back From a Comet’s Surface

The data was waiting on the server, unnoticed.

The last image Rosetta captured.
The last image Rosetta captured. European Space Agency

Just about a year ago, Rosetta, the spacecraft sent to orbit comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, crash landed on 67P’s surface and ended its mission. For the two years it orbited the comet, it had sent back an incredible series of images, the best views we’d ever had of a comet and its surface.

Now, the European Space Agency has announced that, just before the spacecraft crashed, it sent one last image back to Earth.

The image is a blurry but detailed photo of the comet, taken about 55 to 65 feet from the surface, Gizmodo reports.

This photo was reconstructed from data sent in the last moments of Rosetta’s life. Each image it sent back was divided into six packets, but only half of those made it back to Earth, in this case. The automated system wasn’t able to recognize that data as a photo. But the ESA camera team noticed the stray packets and thought, “Wow, that could be another image,” as the ESA reports in a release.

The packets contained layers of information, so the image isn’t missing pieces, just detail. (And at the distance it was shot, it would have been blurry no matter what.) It’s one last bit of wonder sent directly from space back to us here on Earth.