Rosetta’s comet is starting to let off more gas

comet 67P jets

Gas and dust shoot from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in this Rosetta image taken on September 10, 2014.

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta’s comet is coming to life. New images taken with one of the cameras aboard the spacecraft show strong jets shooting from the neck of the comet and other fainter ones bursting from nearly the entire length of the duck-shaped space rock.

Another instrument aboard the spacecraft has caught a whiff of some pretty pungent compounds, in the comet’s vapor, including hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs; ammonia, which gives horse barns their signature scent; and hydrogen cyanide, which resembles the aroma of almonds. The instrument also found traces of formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide and carbon disulfide in the comet’s hazy coma.

These compounds hold many of the elements essential for life and could give clues to how the solar system formed, mission scientists say.

For more on the mission, read SN‘s feature “Rosetta readies for its close rendezvous with a comet.”

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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