CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Sci-Tech

Rosetta's comet puts on fireworks display as it nears the sun

Comet 67P is getting cozy with the sun and things are heating up on the space rock's surface.

Comet 67P gets energetic with this outburst. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Perihelion is nigh. It's the moment when Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko reaches its closest proximity to the sun. The comet has a 6.5-year orbit, so it's a big deal whenever it nears the blazing star.

What's extra special this time is that the Rosetta spacecraft is along as an escort, taking pictures, gathering data and witnessing up close the changes in the comet.

Comet 67P isn't going quietly into perihelion, which happens on Thursday. Rosetta captured what the European Space Agency describes as "one dramatic outburst event proving so powerful that it even pushed away the incoming solar wind."

This fireworks display on July 29 came in the form of a jet of gas and dust jutting out dramatically from the comet's surface. A series of three photos, released Tuesday, show the outburst before, during and after the event.

The jet is a side effect of 67P nearing the sun and heating up as it moves into its own personal summer season. Ice that had previously been tucked away in shadow warms up and turns to gas, which can shoot out into space in impressive fashion.

The jet originated from around the comet's neck and wowed scientists with its strength and brightness, earning it the descriptor of "most dramatic outburst yet." There could be more to come as temperatures increase.

The Rosetta spacecraft launched in 2004 and arrived at the comet just over a year ago to study the space rock. It successfully placed a lander on the comet's surface and both craft have sent back detailed data and images that have given scientists new insights into the comet's geology and behavior. In June, the European Space Agency announced that it would extend Rosetta's mission until September 2016.