Researchers from the European Space Agency have discovered an active water cycle on the comet 67P as it follows its orbit towards the sun.
Mars may not be the only place in the solar system that has some interesting water news this week. According to a report from Sky & Telescope, the strange comet 67P reached a distance of just 186 million kilometers from the sun this August, and scientists working with the European Space Agency have used the instruments on the space probe Rosetta to provide a closer look at what happens on the surface of a comet when it is most active.
Rosetta has been researching comet 67P since August of last year, and has recorded information about its chemical makeup and constant evolution. While we have a pretty good idea of how volatile compounds like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide circulate throughout the comet, we still know relatively little about how water circulates throughout the body.
As the comet nears the sun on its orbital path, specific changes start to take place. Along a flat region near the comet’s larger end, called Imhotep, Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera revealed that massive sinkholes were forming in June and July due to the intense solar radiation causing the ice on the comet’s surface to sublime, or “melt” straight into vapor.
Researchers found that water ice on 67P accounts for up to 15 percent of total surface material and could be mixed with a number of other materials. They also noticed vapor escaping from the comet’s core, which suggests there is more water than just what we can see on the surface.
The ESA will continue to research the comet in hopes of learning more about the way materials cycle throughout.