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Comet 67P's Past, Present, and Magnetosphere

May 28, 2018


If you were into space news back in 2015, you would know about the hectic drama regarding Comet 67P, what with us landing on it, suddenly making it famous for a few days, and then losing contact and everything. But in spite of that, Rosetta the probe launched by the European Space Agency in 2004, has kept orbiting the comet, collecting data and sending it back for analysis.


That data began to reveal unprecedented information on 67P (or any comment for that matter) that we had never seen before.


With all the new discoveries coming in, there is plenty to talk about.


For example: the secrets of 67P’s past, and the transformations we're watching it go through now, as it approaches the Sun.


Rosetta has sent us a whole slew of new highly detailed pictures of the comet's surface. In addition to just being incredibly cool to look at, these pictures are important because comets like 67P date back to the origin of the Solar System. Therefore, features like bumps, cliffs, and pits on the surface are indicators of what it's been through.


These new pictures reveal way more signs of impact than we expected, so this means that there was probably a lot more bouncing and crashing around among the comets in the early Solar System than scientists estimated.


Rosetta is also letting us watch 67P as it undergoes a pretty amazing transformation: it's growing its own magnetosphere!


67P has different types of gas, like carbon dioxide and water vapor, shooting out from its surface. These gases haven't developed into an atmosphere around the comet, partly because it doesn't have a magnetic field around it to repel the highly charged solar wind that whisks them away.


But according to Rosetta, the comet won't stay that way for long. As comet 67P approaches the Sun, the solar radiation and wind hitting the gasses just above its surface ionize some of the particles, and soon these fast-moving charged particles become so dense that they create an electrical field, which in turn starts to create a magnetic field that can actually resist these forces.


So, eventually, the comet will end up with a magnetosphere.


The hope is that as we learn more about how 67P gets its magnetic protection, we'll find out more about how Earth developed its own. 


The comet’s time in the science spotlight is by no means over, so keep a lookout for more news from this rightfully famous chunk of rock.


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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space.

I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject.

Hofmeister, Caitlin. "New Views of a Comet, and Five Ancient Planets Discovered." SciShow Space, YouTube. 29 Jan, 2015. Web video.

Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "Comet 67P's Past, Present, and Magnetosphere." SkyFeed. 28 May 2018. Web article.

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