Despite being the third most abundant element in the Universe, molecular oxygen, or O₂, is relatively rare off Earth. That's why it raised a few eyebrows at ESA when the space agency's Rosetta spacecraft discovered oxygen molecules jetting out of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. According to the Rosetta team, the oxygen is outgassing in such abundance that its presence may date back to the formation of the comet over 4.6 billion years ago.
Earth isn't the only place with seasons. Other planets and even very small celestial bodies can have them, too, as ESA's Rosetta probe has shown in its explorations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. When the unmanned spacecraft went into orbit about the comet, it revealed that the southern hemisphere of the dumbbell-shaped nucleus is shrouded in a dark winter that lasts over five years and, according to data collected by the Rosettas's onboard spectrometer, hides ice in larger amounts than the rest of the comet.
On August 13, comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and ESA’s unmanned Rosetta probe made their closest approach to the Sun. Both are now heading for the outer Solar System, but Rosetta still has secrets to reveal. One is that the comet has a daily water cycle that, according to the space agency, keeps it "alive."
On Thursday at 02:03 GMT, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta orbiter reached their closest point (known as perihelion) to the Sun, coming within 186 million km (115 million mi) of our parent star. The event was marked by an increase in activity on the comet, which is expected to continue over the next few weeks as it now heads toward the outer Solar System.
Rosetta has detected a powerful jet of activity emitted from the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P). The force of the outburst, which is believed to be travelling at 10 m per sec (32 ft per sec), was strong enough to temporarily repel the solar wind – a constant stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun, that work to convey our star's magnetic field across the solar system.
New ESA images allow the public to take an in-depth tour of the Imhotep region of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P). Located close to the comet's equator, Imhotep is thought to be one of the most geologically diverse regions of 67P, with observations of the area contributing greatly to our understanding of the wandering celestial bodies.
ESA’s Philae comet lander has once again gone silent. According to the space agency, the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on a comet lost radio contact with the Rosetta orbiter mothership on July 9. Despite this setback, engineers are still transmitting commands to the unmanned probe in the hope of reestablishing communications and getting it to continue observations.
Reaching 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko with Rosetta was an incredible feat of science and engineering that has revolutionized how we understand comets, but the fact is that the orbiter and its Philae partner are just entering the interesting part of their mission. Join us as we take a look at what can be expected as Rosetta travels ever closer to the Sun.
New Horizons is making headlines today with its historic flyby of Pluto – and if that's caught your imagination, welcome to the tip of the iceberg! Deep space exploration represents some of humanity's most astonishing achievements, so we've decided to feature five active space missions that absolutely blow our minds. Meet the Mars Orbiter, New Horizons, Rosetta and the intrepid Voyager spacecraft in our second State of the Game video presentation.
The Rosetta spacecraft appears to have discovered the presence of a
series of sinkholes on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
(67P). They're responsible for some of the increasingly active gas
streams that are being observed by the orbiter as the comet speeds