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Rosetta spacecraft captures dramatic comet outburst ahead of perihelion

European probe Rosetta spacecraft has recently captured a brilliant plume of gas and dust erupted from the comet Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.


Rosetta spacecraft captures dramatic comet outburst ahead of perihelion
ESA/Rosetta/MPS

European probe Rosetta spacecraft has recently captured a brilliant plume of gas and dust erupted from the comet Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The short-lived, yet the most dramatic outburst was captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera, while the spacecraft was orbiting at a distance of 116 miles (186 kilometers) from the comet, said NASA.

A sequence of images taken by OSIRIS shows the sudden onset of a well-defined, jet-like feature emerging from the side of the comet’s neck. The jet, the brightest seen to date, was first recorded in an image taken at 6:24 a.m. PDT (9:24 a.m. EDT, 13:24 GMT) on July 29, but not in an image taken 18 minutes earlier. The jet then faded significantly in an image captured 18 minutes later. The OSIRIS camera team estimates the material in the jet was traveling at 33 feet per second (10 meters per second), at least.

European Space Agency's Rosetta has been witnessing growing activity from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as the comet approaches perihelion (its closest point to the sun during its orbit).

Early science results collected during the outburst came from several instruments aboard Rosetta, including the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS), which uses NASA-built electronics.

“This first quick look at our measurements after the outburst is fascinating,” said Kathrin Altwegg, principal investigator for the Rosetta's ROSINA instrument from the University of Bern, Switzerland.

On Thursday, August 13, the comet reaches perihelion, the moment in its 6.5-year orbit when it is closest to the Sun. The period around perihelion is scientifically very important, as the intensity of the sunlight increases and parts of the comet previously cast in years of darkness are flooded with sunlight.

Rosetta's lander, Philae, obtained the first images taken from a comet's surface and will provide analysis of the comet's possible primordial composition. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to witness at close proximity how a comet changes as it is subjected to the increasing intensity of the sun's radiation.

According to NASA, comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the sun and its planets formed.  

(Source: NASA)

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