Ancient ice beneath the surface of comet 67P is softer than candyfloss

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An illustration of the Philae lander on comet 67P

ESA/ATG medialab

When the European Area Company’s Philae lander arrived on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – additionally referred to as comet 67P – it bounced twice earlier than reaching its closing resting place. Now researchers have discovered the situation of the second bounce, which uncovered the unusual ice beneath the comet’s floor.

The Philae lander was carried to 67P aboard the Rosetta orbiter, which launched in 2004 and arrived on the comet in 2014. When Philae was dropped to the floor, the harpoons designed to carry it in place didn’t fireplace, so the lander bounced. The situation of the primary bounce and the lander’s final resting place have been each discovered, however we didn’t know the place the second bounce passed off till now.

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“I feel it’s one of the constructive issues that occurred on the mission, that it bounced, as a result of we managed to get science from three places on the comet,” says Laurence O’Rourke, a member of ESA’s Rosetta crew. O’Rourke and his colleagues discovered the second bounce web site by analysing photos from Rosetta taken earlier than and after Philae’s touchdown.

They discovered a brilliant streak throughout a pair of boulders in a area that O’Rourke nicknamed “skull-top ridge” due to its resemblance to a cranium in among the photographs. “It was like a chainsaw sliced by way of the ice,” he says. Philae seems to have bounced between the boulders, producing 4 slashes that exposed the primitive ice beneath the comet’s floor layer of mud.

Analysing these gashes allowed the researchers to calculate the energy of the ice, which they discovered is weaker than candyfloss. “This ice that’s 4.5 billion years previous is as comfortable as the froth that’s on prime of your cappuccino, it’s as comfortable as sea foam on the seaside, it’s softer than the softest snow after a snowstorm,” says O’Rourke.

Realizing that among the comet’s ice is so comfortable might assist future landers discover a safer place to the touch down on 67P or different comets prefer it, he says. It is also vital for understanding how to protect Earth ought to a comet ever head our means. “You can not simply hit it with an object and count on it to maneuver or disintegrate,” says O’Rourke. “It could be like punching a cloud.”

Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2834-3

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