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Sci-Tech

16-year-old webcam takes weird space selfie with Earth

An old webcam up in space gets a reboot and delivers a strange low-res selfie with Earth making a cameo in the background.

Cluster satellites

An artist's concept of Cluster in space.

ESA - CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The European Space Agency's four Cluster satellites are currently zipping around in formation in space. They launched in 2000 and scientists recently awakened a very old webcam on board one of the satellites. The Lazarus-like device is still operational and provided the researchers back on Earth with a very interesting space selfie.

The ESA presented the selfie in the form of an animation of 27 separate frames. The gif shows a partially sunlit Earth flying around the edge of a black expanse of space. You may be wondering where the selfie component comes in. Look in the upper left corner. That tiny bit of brightness is part of one of the satellite's antennas.

Cluster's mission is to study the impact of solar winds on Earth. The webcam, which is located on the satellite known as "Samba," was originally intended to provide confirmation of the satellites' separation from each other after launch. It wasn't meant to dazzle anyone with stunning images.

Cluster selfie

There's a lot of space, a little Earth and tiny bit of satellite in this selfie.

ESA

"The camera had actually never been used in flight before due to a glitch during launch, but it turns out that it operates quite well after 16 years, and the team are now working to optimize exposure and post-processing settings for the recommissioned device," says spacecraft operations manager Bruno Sousa.

The spinning effect is due to the satellite's rotating movement used to maintain its stability.

There are likely very few 16-year-old webcams still in use on Earth. It's impressive that one in space still functions. The ESA took and released the image last week, but highlighted it on Thursday as part of its Space in Images series.