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Comet 67P Has Water Ice, May Reveal Formation History

Jan 25, 2016 06:29 PM EST
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Following the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter's collection of data on the comet 67p/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, researchers have solidified their earlier observations that water ice is present there. This is the first time water ice has made a clear and obvious presence there, and it may reveal new information on the comet's formation history, according to a release.

The ice seems mainly to be coming from beneath the comet's crust. Very few instances of visible water ice are on the surface.

Other data, from Rosetta' VIRTIS infrared instrument, showed that the comet's upper layer is coated in a dark, organic-rich, dry material -- but it has a bit of water ice there too.

The latest study focuses on September and November 2014 data, showing areas in the Imhotep region that look like bright patches several tens of meters across. These hold a large amount of water ice. In general, the ice is appearing on walls of cliffs and where debris has fallen from them. It was recorded at an average temperature of 120 degrees Celsius.

While we still have much to learn about comets, astronomers know that they were born far in the outer regions of the Solar System 4600 million years ago or so, at the time when planets were forming. The comets formed of icy material and some rocky matter. The combination made them the "icebergs" of space, as the ESA has observed.

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