Comet Makes Closest Approach to the Sun Today with Rosetta Along for the Ride

First Posted: Aug 13, 2015 08:37 AM EDT

The Rosetta spacecraft is making its closest approach yet to the sun, riding along on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Assuming both survive the encounter, researchers may be finding out a bit more about comets and their composition as the sun's rays beat down on the icy object.

The closest approach to the sun is called perihelion, and this particular approach is the final result of a 6 and a half-year orbit. In fact, this approach, which occurs Aug. 13, bring the comet within 114.9 million miles of the sun.

Activity has already started on the comet, as well. Recently, it released a spectacular fountain of material which blasted away from the comet.

"This is the brightest yet we've seen so far," said Carsten Gutter, 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."

The outburst was actually so intense that it managed to push the solar wind away from the nucleus for a few moments.

It's likely that this activity will continue to ramp up as the comet travels away from the sun after today. In the summer, the warmest days always occur after the longest day; the same is true for the comet. The icy body will continue to heat up after it leaves-at least for a little while-which means that we're likely to see further activity.

Rosetta will continue to monitor the comet as this activity occurs. This, in turn, will tell researchers on Earth a bit more about the icy body.

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