Copyright: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
The data were sent to Earth only a few days after the outburst, but subsequent analysis has allowed a clear chain of events to be reconstructed, as described in a paper led by Eberhard Grün of the Max-Planck-Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg, accepted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
In addition, MIRO recorded a 30ºC rise in temperature of the surrounding gas.
Shortly after, Rosetta was blasted by dust: GIADA recorded a maximum hit count at around 11:15 GMT. Almost 200 particles were detected in the following three hours, compared with a typical rate of 3–10 collected on other days in the same month.
At the same time, OSIRIS narrow-angle camera images began registering dust grains emitted during the blast. Between 11:10 GMT and 11:40 GMT, a transition occurred from grains that were distant or slow enough to appear as points in the images, to those either close or fast enough to be captured as trails during the exposures.
In addition, the startrackers, which are used to navigate and help control Rosetta’s attitude, measured an increase in light scattered from dust particles as a result of the outburst.
The startrackers are mounted at 90º to the side of the spacecraft that hosts the majority of science instruments, so they offered a unique insight into the 3D structure and evolution of the outburst.
Astronomers on Earth also noted an increase in coma density in the days after the outburst.
By examining all of the available data, scientists believe they have identified the source of the outburst.
“From Rosetta’s observations, we believe the outburst originated from a steep slope on the comet’s large lobe, in the Atum region,” says Eberhard.
The fact that the outburst started when this area just emerged from shadow suggests that thermal stresses in the surface material may have triggered a landslide that exposed fresh water ice to direct solar illumination. The ice then immediately turned to gas, dragging surrounding dust with it to produce the debris cloud seen by OSIRIS.
“Combining the evidence from the OSIRIS images with the long duration of the GIADA dust impact phase leads us to believe that the dust cone was very broad,” says Eberhard.
“As a result, we think the outburst must have been triggered by a landslide at the surface, rather than a more focused jet bringing fresh material up from within the interior, for example.”
“We’ll continue to analyse the data not only to dig into the details of this particular event, but also to see if it can help us better understand the many other outbursts witnessed over the course of the mission,” adds Matt.
“It’s great to see the instrument teams working together on the important question of how cometary outbursts are triggered.”
“The 19 Feb. 2016 outburst of comet 67P/CG: A Rosetta multi-instrument study,” by E. Grün et al is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stw2088
For further information, please contact:
Max-Planck-Institute for Nuclear Physics, Heidelberg, Germany
ESA Rosetta project scientist
ESA Science and Robotic Exploration Communication Officer
Tel: +31 71 565 6799
Mob: +31 61 594 3 954