Pow! Rosetta probe spots comet eruption

Image: Rosetta image of comet eruption
The OSIRIS wide-angle camera on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe captured this view of an outburst from the Atum region on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Feb. 19. (Credit: ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team, MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA)

The scientists behind the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission to a comet today released an amazing series of pictures showing the space mountain flashing with an outburst of dust and gas.

They suspect that the Feb. 19 outburst, captured by Rosetta’s instruments from a distance of about 20 miles, may have been triggered by a landslide.

“Over the last year, Rosetta has show 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,” Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist, said in a news release. “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.”

The readings were sent back soon after the eruption, but it took months to reconstruct the chain of events behind it. Now a research paper about the phenomenon has been published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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