Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:17 AM EDT

Comet Awakes As It Approaches the Sun

Jan 23, 2015 09:33 PM EST

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An artist’s impression of Philae on the gassy comet’s surface
(Photo : European Space Agency)

Do you remember that comet we landed on last year?  It seems this comet has unexpectedly become more active showing signs of "waking up" as it zooms towards the sun at almost 47,800 miles per hour.

Like planets, comets move around the Sun in an elliptical orbit although their orbits are often more elongated when compared to the orbit of the planets.  As they get closer to the Sun they heat up and start releasing more gas and water vapor from their interior.

When the probe landed on the comet back in November, scientists only received a small amount of data before it ran out of power.  This was due to the probe landing on a shadowy area of the comet, causing it to run out of solar power.  Scientists are still hoping that as it gets closer to the Sun the probe will boot back up and resume transmitting data.

We have learned more about the comet thanks to the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting the comet.  Rosetta's cameras have revealed a wide range of surface features including dune and ripple-like structures, and evidence of brittle surface material collapsing and fracturing as the comet hurdles through space.  Scientists now believe that the center of the comet may actually be somewhat porous instead of solid.

Scientists have also discovered that the "out-gassing" of the comet is much more varied than originally believed.  The comet's coma, which is the envelope of gas and dust surrounding the nucleus of the comet is also much less uniformm, with much of the gas jets seen coming from the neck joining the two lobes of the comet.

The data we are receiving about the comet is changing much of what we know about comets, except for the most fundamental perceptions we have about comets.

Dr Hunter Waite, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, who led a study of the comet's coma published in the journal Science saying: "Our whole concept of the variability of volatile release at comets will change based on this paper, which will have significant impact on our understanding of comet formation and evolution."

Scientists have found that on the surface of the comet's sunlit side there are simple organic compounds but very little water ice.  However, scientists are somewhat frustrated as currently they only side they can study for the moment is the sunny side, leaving the dark side of the comet a mystery at least for now.

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