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ESA's Rosetta Probe Recorded Proof of a Comet Landslide for the First Time

Mar 22, 2017 12:58 PM EDT

There could be landslides occurring on comet 67P also known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is after the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta comet chase probe photographed the changing surface of the comet.

A study, published in the journal Science, enumerated the changes observed on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Researchers analyzed the data from ESA's Rosetta mission to come up with their findings. One of the most notable change occurred in the most active period called perihelion -- or the moment it reached its closest approach to the Sun.

"Monitoring the comet continuously as it traversed the inner solar system gave us an unprecedented insight not only into how comets change when they travel close to the Sun, but also how fast these changes take place," Mohamed El-Maarry, a comet researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the lead author of the study said in a statement.

The changes, including what appears to be landslides on the surface of the comet, could be attributed to geological processes which include erosion, weathering, sublimation of water ice and the mechanical effects of the comet spinning in its orbit. Researchers commented that the landscape of the comet becomes fascinating due to the "dramatic outbursts" and slow erosion that constantly occurs as proved by the data captured by ESA Rosetta probe.

The data published in the journal reveals a 100-meter collapsed cliff wall. This is the first time an event like this on a surface of a comet was documented, according to a report.

"One of the key points of this paper is that the observed changes are small and relatively subtle. Features such as large holes suggest that more violent activity is infrequent on the time scale of an orbital period," Dennis Bodewits, an assistant research scientist in astronomy at the University of Maryland who is a co-author of the study added.

Changing of the temperatures, heating and cooling also cause fragmentation on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. These changes tend to weaken the materials on the surface of the comet. Meanwhile, the heating of subsurface ice that then leads to gas outflow result in landslides or collapse of cliff walls.

However, reports say that a massive fracture observed in 2014 that visibly run through the comet's neck was attributed to a different cause. Reports say that the 500-meter-long fracture could be due to the increasing spin rate of the comet. Whichever the cause, it is proven that the surface of comet constantly changes.

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