Going through photos captured by Rosetta spacecraft, Spanish astrophotographer Jacint Roger found a tiny object around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Last week marked five years since ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft reached comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It launched in 2004 and arrived at 67P in 2014.
The probe performed a detailed study of the comet collecting lots of data and sending many pictures back to Earth.
While analyzing the images, Spanish astrophotographer Jacint Roger noticed a small chunk of orbiting debris, named Churymoon, in images taken on Oct. 21, 2015. During that time Rosetta was about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the comet.
Churymoon is likely the biggest piece of debris yet spotted by the Rosetta mission. It appears to be about 13 feet (4 meters) wide, European Space Agency (ESA) officials said.
“Modelling of the Rosetta images indicates that this object spent the first 12 hours after its ejection in an orbital path around 67P/C-G at a distance of between 2.4 and 3.9 km [1.5 to 2.4 miles] from the comet’s center,” ESA officials wrote in a statement on Aug. 12.
“Afterwards, the chunk crossed a portion of the coma, which appears very bright in the images, making it difficult to follow its path precisely,” they added. “However, later observations on the opposite side of the coma confirm a detection consistent with the orbit of the chunk, providing an indication of its motion around the comet until 23 October 2015.”
You Might Like This: “How Did Comets Form?“
When comets get close to the sun, they eject large quantities of debris. The same happened with Comet 67P/C-G which is a dusty object. When the comet approached the sun in late July and August 2015, Rosetta recorded a huge amount of dust covering the comet. The sun’s heat caused the comet to release debris into space, lifting the dust along. The gaseous envelope or the “coma” surrounding the comet is a cloud of such debris.
It’s “likely the largest chunk detected around the comet and will be subject to further investigations,” ESA officials wrote in the same statement.
Scientists are now investigating this large chunk of debris in greater detail.
Rosetta’s journey ended on Sept. 30, 2016, when team members intentionally descended the probe down on Comet 67P.