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Rosetta’s Comet a Newcomer in the Solar System, New Study Finds

Oct 25, 2016 05:01 AM EDT

Astronomers have discovered that Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, also known as Rosetta's Comet, is relatively new to the inner regions of the solar system.

The European Space Agency's (ESA) comet-chasing Rosetta mission may have ended last month, but research studies on the data collected by the spacecraft during its 12-year journey have just started.

A team of researchers from the Western University in Ontario, Canada has charted the history of Comet 67P, which is a distant icy comet that was previously studied by ESA's Rosetta probe. The comet is said to be home to complex organic molecules that may hold clues about the origin of life on Earth.

"We're putting together the pieces of the puzzle of this really, really interesting comet," Paul Wiegert, a professor at Western University's Center for Planetary Science and Space Exploration and one of the researchers, told CBC Canada.

Using statistical analysis and scientific computing, the researchers charted the history of the comet and found that it might have originated from the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt, which is a region beyond Neptune that is home to asteroids, comets, and other space objects.

According to the researchers, Comet 67P had arrived at the inner solar system only about 10,000 years ago, which means it is relatively a newcomer. Moreover, the comet had spent over 4.5 billion years in a region in the Kuiper Belt known as scattered disc.

"Over the course of the last million years or so the comet has moved inwards closer to the sun," Wiegert said in the same statement. "Its birthplace is quite different from the location it finds itself in right now."

Today's Comet 67P belongs to the Jupiter-family of comets and journeys around the Sun every 6.5 years. But Wiegert and study co-author Mattia Galiazzo showed that in transit, the comet spent millions of years in the scattered disk area, which is about twice the distance of Neptune, Universe Today reports. The researchers' theory is that a collision might have occurred long ago in the Kuiper Belt, flinging fragments across the solar system. These objects may have been pulled by Jupiter's enormous gravity and were placed into short-period orbits.

The researchers suggest that, based on this theory, Comet 67P is made up of primordial matter--minerals that existed in their current form long before the Earth was formed.

The findings of the research were presented at the European Planetary Science Congress in Pasadena, California that ran from Oct. 16 to 21.

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