Washington: The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, target of ESA`s Rosetta mission, has begun to develop a dust coma.
This can be seen in a series of images taken by OSIRIS, the spacecraft`s scientific imaging system, between March 27th and May 4th. In the images from the end of April, the dust that the comet is already emitting is clearly visible as an evolving coma and reaches approximately 1,300 kilometers into space.
Scientists from the OSIRIS team presented these new findings in a meeting at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS).
"67P is beginning to look like a real comet," comments Principal Investigator Holger Sierks from the MPS .
The images recorded in late-April from a distance of approximately 2 million kilometers show not only a nucleus, but also pale structures surrounding it. When comets approach the Sun, volatile gases evaporate from their surface carrying fountains of tiny dust particles with them.
In part, these gases and dust remain bound to the nucleus by gravity thus constituting the comet`s coma.
Still more than 600 million kilometers separate 67P from the Sun. This corresponds to more than four times the distance between Earth and Sun. This early onset of cometary activity offers scientists the opportunity to study dust production and structures within the coma at an early stage of the mission.