How long landing sites on comets last, astrophysicists find out

(ORDO NEWS) — Sometimes space probes that stopped sending data a long time ago can still lead to new discoveries. This happened recently when scientists used data from the Rosetta probe, which crashed into comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2016, to understand what changes are taking place on the comet’s surface.

Published in the Planetary Science Journal on August 26, an article by Cornell researchers pointed to the need to find a safe landing site for a future sample return mission.

The idea was not just to find a specific location on 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but to better understand how geological processes in the comet’s orbit around the Sun affect its surface.

There was a lot of data to study. Rosetta spent more than two years orbiting the comet and even sent the Philae lander to it. It circled 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the moment when the comet reached its perihelion.

Temperature rises on the comet’s surface in late 2015 caused significant shifts in 16 different flat areas on the surface observed by Rosetta.

Sublimation is a process in which the ice that normally covers a comet’s body is converted into gas by the heat of the sun. Changes in the region also included the erosion of some of the edges of depressions on the surface and the deposition of other material on it.

Such changes would make it difficult for any lander to find a stable place. Philae herself had problems when she bounced off the comet’s surface and ended up in an incomprehensible position, hampering the rest of her mission. These are the risks of landing on a body where gravity is 1/10,000 of Earth’s.

However, even these problems are not enough to prevent scientists from investigating them. Many believe that comets once seeded the Earth with the necessary chemicals for life, including water.

They formed during the formation of the solar system and have not changed much since then. They allow us to understand what the solar system was like before the formation of the planets.

67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko may once again be visited by research probes, as it is one of the most accessible comets for research. The comet has an orbital period of 6.45 years, which means it travels through the full range of conditions that comets find themselves in in a short amount of time.

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