When night falls on Rosetta’s comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the bizarrely shaped body remains active. This can be seen in new images of the Ma’at region located on the comet’s “head” captured by OSIRIS, the scientific imaging system on board the Rosetta spacecraft. They were taken approximately half an hour after the Sun had set over the region and show clearly distinguishable jets of dust escaping into space. Researchers from the OSIRIS team believe that the increasing heating-up of the comet is responsible for the newly observed phenomenon.
“Only recently have we begun to observe dust jets persisting even after sunset”, says OSIRIS Principal Investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. In the past months, the comet’s activity originated from illuminated areas on the day side. As soon as the Sun set, these jets subsided and did not re-awake until after the next sunrise. An exception poses an image from 12 March, 2015 showing the onset of a dust jet on the brink of dawn.
Data collected by NASA’s Alice instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft reveal that electrons close to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — not photons from the sun, as had been believed — cause the rapid breakup of water and carbon dioxide molecules spewing from the comet’s surface.
“The discovery we’re reporting is quite unexpected,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the Alice instrument at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It shows us the value of going to comets to observe them up close, since this discovery simply could not have been made from Earth or Earth orbit with any existing or planned observatory. And, it is fundamentally transforming our knowledge of comets.
A report of the findings has been accepted for publication by the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Rosetta-Alice Spectrograph Obtains First Far Ultraviolet Spectra Of A Cometary Surface While Orbiting Churyumov-Gerasimenko
NASA’s Alice ultraviolet (UV) spectrograph aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta comet orbiter has delivered its first scientific discoveries. Rosetta, in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, is the first spacecraft to study a comet up close.
As Alice began mapping the comet’s surface last month, it made the first far ultraviolet spectra of a cometary surface. From these data, the Alice team discovered that the comet is unusually dark at ultraviolet wavelengths and that the comet’s surface — so far — shows no large water-ice patches. Alice is also already detecting both hydrogen and oxygen in the comet’s coma, or atmosphere.
“We’re a bit surprised at both just how very unreflective the comet’s surface is, and what little evidence of exposed water-ice it shows,” says Dr. Alan Stern, Alice principal investigator and an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Science and Engineering Division.
Using detailed information collected by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during its first two weeks at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, five locations have been identified as candidate sites to set down the Philae lander in November – the first time a landing on a comet has ever been attempted.
Before arrival, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko had never been seen close up and so the race to find a suitable landing site for the 100 kg lander could only begin when Rosetta rendezvoused with the comet on 6 August.
The landing is expected to take place in mid-November when the comet is about 450 million km from the Sun, before activity on the comet reaches levels that might jeopardise the safe and accurate deployment of Philae to the comet’s surface, and before surface material is modified by this activity.
The comet is on a 6.5-year orbit around the Sun and today is 522 million km from it. At their closest approach on 13 August 2015, just under a year from now, the comet and Rosetta will be 185 million km from the Sun, meaning an eightfold increase in the light received from the Sun.
An international team of scientists using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has made incredible 3D images of the ghostly atmospheres surrounding comets ISON and Lemmon. These new observations provided important insights into how and where comets forge new chemicals, including intriguing organic compounds.
Comets contain some of the oldest and most pristine materials in our Solar System. Understanding their unique chemistry could reveal much about the birth of our planet and the origin of organic compounds that are the building blocks of life. ALMA’s high-resolution observations provided a tantalizing 3D perspective of the distribution of the molecules within these two cometary atmospheres, or comas.
“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said team leader Martin Cordiner, a Catholic University of America astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
A NASA-led team of scientists has created detailed 3-D maps of the atmospheres surrounding comets, identifying several gases and mapping their spread at the highest resolution ever achieved.
“We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said Martin Cordiner, a researcher working in the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Cordiner led the international team of researchers.
Almost unheard of for comet studies, the 3-D perspective provides deeper insight into which materials are shed from the nucleus of the comet and which are produced within the atmosphere, or coma. This helped the team nail down the sources of two key organic, or carbon-containing, molecules.
A new analysis of data from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft has revealed that comet 2012/S1 (ISON) stopped producing dust and gas shortly before it raced past the Sun and disintegrated.
When comet ISON was discovered in the autumn of 2012, astronomers hoped that it would eventually light up the night sky to become a “comet of the century”. Orbital analysis showed that the sungrazing intruder from the outer reaches of the Solar System would pass only 1.2 million kilometres above the Sun’s visible surface on 28 November 2013.
Based on its early brightness, the comet promised to be a unique research object and, should it survive its flyby of the Sun, a stunning celestial phenomenon in the weeks preceding Christmas. However, it soon became clear that these hopes and expectations would not be met.