Comet surface changes before Rosetta’s eyes

In the months leading to the perihelion of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta scientists have been witnessing dramatic and rapid surface changes on the Imhotep region, as reported in a paper to be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics

Since arriving at Comet 67P/C-G in August 2014, Rosetta has been witnessing an increase in the activity of the comet, warmed by the ever-closer Sun. A general increase in the outflow of gas and dust has been punctuated by the emergence of jets and dramatic rapid outbursts in the weeks around perihelion, the closest point to the Sun on the comet’s orbit, which occurred on 13 August 2015.

But in June 2015, just two months before perihelion, Rosetta scientists started noticing important changes on the surface of the nucleus itself. These very significant alterations have been seen in Imhotep, a region containing smooth terrains covered by fine-grained material as well as large boulders, located on 67P/C-G’s large lobe.

“We had been closely monitoring the Imhotep region since August 2014, and as late as May 2015, we had detected no changes down to scales of a tenth of a metre,” comments Olivier Groussin, an astronomer at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, France, OSIRIS Co-Investigator and lead author of the study. “Then one morning we noticed that something new had happened: the surface of Imhotep had started to change dramatically. The changes kept going on for quite a while.”

First evidence for a new, roughly round feature in Imhotep was seen in an image taken with Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 June. Subsequent images later in June showed this feature growing in size, and being joined by a second round feature. By 2 July, they had reached diameters of roughly 220 m and 140 m, respectively, and another new feature began to appear. Source: Comet surface changes before Rosetta’s eyes

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