Rosetta Captures Comet Firing the Most Spectacular Jet Yet into Space

First Posted: Aug 12, 2015 07:07 AM EDT

A comet is making quite the show before reaching its closest point to the sun. The Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has blasted out a spectacular jet, which has been captured by the Rosetta spacecraft.

The comet is expected to reach perihelion, which is the moment its 6.5-year orbit is closest to the sun, on Thursday. In increasing months, the increasing solar energy has been warming the comet's frozen ice, turning it into gas which shoots off into space, dragging dust along with it.

The period around perihelion is scientifically very important. The intensity of sunlight increases, and parts of the comet previously cast in darkness are suddenly flooded with light, allowing researchers to better see the comet.

The comet's activity is expected to peak in the weeks following perihelion, rather like the hottest days of summer come after the longest days. However, sudden and unpredictable outbursts can come at any time-like what's seen in the new image.

Rosetta spotted the most dramatic outburst yet, registered by several of its instruments as the spacecraft orbited 186 km from the comet. Rosetta imaged he outburst erupting from the nucleus, witnessed a change in the structure and composition of the gaseous coma environment surrounding Rosetta, and detected increased levels of dust particles.

"This is the brightest jet we've seen so far," said Carsten Guttler, OSIRIS team member, in a news release. "Usually the jets are quite faint compared to the nucleus and we need to stretch the contrast of the images to make them visible-but this one is brighter than the nucleus."

In fact, the outburst was so intense that it managed to push the solar wind away from the nucleus for a few moments. These findings, in particular, reveal a bit more about this comet as it approaches perihelion.

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