(ORDO NEWS) — Cornell astronomers have shown how flat landscapes form in the icy world of comets – convenient places for spacecraft to land and collect samples. The study was published August 16 in the Planetary Science Journal.
Comets are icy bodies made up of dust, rocks and gas left over from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
The chemical composition of comets remains practically unchanged from the moment of their formation, which turns comets into a kind of “time capsules” that preserve the primary material from the moment of the birth of the solar system.
By applying thermal models to data collected by the Rosetta mission, which reached comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko nearly a decade ago, scientists have found that the comet’s surface can change as it approaches the sun.
The flat areas of the surface are the places where the most changes were observed, which makes them key to understanding the evolution of the surface of comets.
The researchers studied the evolution of 16 depressions in the Imhotep region from June 5, 2015, when activity was first seen at 67P, to December 6, 2015, when the final large-scale changes took place.
Comet 67P went through a process called sublimation, during which the icy parts turned into gas under the influence of solar heat. In the area of Imhotep, erosion of ledges and sedimentation of substances were observed.
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, equipped with a Philae lander, launched in March 2004. Rosetta explored Mars and several asteroids, and 10 years after launch, reached comet 67P.
Rosetta accompanied the comet as it circled around the sun. Philae landed on the comet in late 2014, and Rosetta landed on the surface in late 2016.
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