Rosetta Spacecraft Discovers Weather System on Comet

By Randy Lertdarapong

Web Editor


Scientists at the European Space Agency recently discovered a weather system on comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko through the Rosetta Spacecraft.

“We observed this cycle for several comet rotations…We were surprised to see so clearly the appearance and disappearance of the ice due to temperature and illumination conditions,” said planetary scientist Maria Cristina De Sanctis, according to Discovery News.

The weather system is driven by the comet’s day and night cycles.

Ice forms underneath the comet’s surface throughout the night. When the sun rises, the ice sublimates, transforming into gas, and forming clouds of water vapor. These vapor clouds burst through the comet’s surface.

Unlike Earth’s water cycle, the water vapor on the comet is swept into space, rather than precipitating back down onto the comets’s surface.

The data gathered by Rosetta estimates that water ice makes up 10 to 15 percent of the comet’s surface. Eventually, this process will purge the comet’s water supply entirely.

The deep regions on the surface are the results of erosion caused by the weather systems. This erosion gives the comet its distinct “rubber duck-like” appearance.

Organic compounds have been identified on the comet’s surface by the Rosetta Spacecraft. This important discovery can provide insight on how life was started on Earth.

On Sept. 30, Rosetta is scheduled to leave the comet’s nucleus, due to begin a three-week excursion. The spacecraft will travel a distance more than 932 miles. Currently, the spacecraft orbits around 280 miles from the nucleus.

In a NASA’s blog post of the project, Rosetta scientist Claire Vallet said “While it may appear odd to depart from the nucleus at this time, these measurements are also key to understanding the comet’s behavior… and must be performed not too long after perihelion (closest point to the sun) so the that the comet is still appreciably active.”

Researching the information gathered from the Rosetta Spacecraft will provide valuable information about a comet’s life cycle and bring us one step closer to understanding the “rudimentary building blocks of life.”


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