The outburst was likely caused by landslide in the region of comet known as Atum
Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft has captured a dramatic explosion on comet 67/P’s surface and this outburst is likely caused by a landslide.
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Rosetta has been keeping an eye on comet 67/P Churyumov–Gerasimenko since August, 2014. On February 19, the spacecraft has observed bright flares erupting from the comet’s surface while it was orbiting the icy object at the distance of 35 kilometers. Not only did gas and plasma spewed out into the space but the temperature around comet also increased by 54 degrees Fahrenheit during the explosion. These observations can reveal more inner secrets about cemetary outbursts or the random phases during which cemetary activity has sharply increased.
“Over the last year, Rosetta has shown that although activity can be prolonged, when it comes to outbursts, the timing is highly unpredictable, so catching an event like this was pure luck,” said Matt Taylor, ESA's Rosetta project scientist.
“By happy coincidence, we were pointing the majority of instruments at the comet at this time, and having these simultaneous measurements provides us with the most complete set of data on an outburst ever collected.”
Camera installed on Rosetta detected almost 200 particles till three hours after the explosion, which is significantly higher than usual. On other days, 3 to 10 particles are collected on average.
Scientists speculate that outbursts of comets have different sources. Few of the suggested ones are: collisions with other small bodies existing in the universe and interaction with an interplanetary vagabond like a meteoroid. But researchers believe they have managed to clearly identify the source of the outburst this time around.
“From Rosetta's observations, we believe the outburst originated from a steep slope on the comet's large lobe, in the Atum region," said lead researcher Eberhard Grün of the Max-Planck-Institute for Nuclear Physics.
Thermal stresses in the surface material might have triggered a landslide that exposed fresh water ice to direct solar illumination and turned it into gas, which was accompanied by the surrounding dust.
"Combining the evidence from the OSIRIS images with the long duration of the GIADA dust impact phase leads us to believe that the dust cone was very broad," said Eberhard.
"As a result, we think the outburst must have been triggered by a landslide at the surface, rather than a more focused jet bringing fresh material up from within the interior, for example.”
Researchers are planning to continue data analysis and hoping to unravel more details about this particular event so they can better understand the phenomena of cemetery outbursts.