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Sci-Tech

Rosetta captures the birth of a comet dust jet

Good timing allowed Rosetta's imaging system to witness a dust jet shooting out from the surface of Comet 67P.

Rosetta see dust jet
Before and after the dust jet emerges from the comet underside. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is one busy bundle of ice and rock. It doesn't just sit there like a lump in space, but rather emanates jets of dust and plumes of vapor. The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is witnessing this activity and giving us some exciting images of material streaming off the comet's surface. A newly released image shows the rare moment when a fresh dust jet emerges.

Comet 67P is nearing the sun and warming up in the process. The result is a rise in activity coming from the comet. Two images taken on March 12 are the first to show the onset of a dust jet. Rosetta's Osiris imaging system took the images two minutes apart. Look to the dark underside of the comet to see the jet's emergence.

"This was a chance discovery," says Osiris principal investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. "No one has ever witnessed the wake-up of a dust jet before. It is impossible to plan such an image."

The Rosetta spacecraft spent 10 years chasing down Comet 67P before reaching orbit and beginning its study of the space rock in August of last year.

Rosetta's lander Philae touched down on the comet's surface in November 2014, but bounced, landed in a shaded spot and went into sleep mode. The ESA is still attempting to find its location on the comet. There is hope Philae may wake up as the comet nears the sun. Meanwhile, Rosetta's science mission continues to deliver fascinating insights into the comet's physical changes as it nears the sun.