“How big was the super eruption?” asks astronomer Kelly Young of NASA.
Well, that’s not entirely clear from the data, but Young explains that, considering the fact that the activity lasted for days and nights, this could be the largest such eruption in recent history.
According to the satellite data released by NASA and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the comet thundered through Earth’s atmosphere in four “outbursts,” each lasting 12 hours, at a maximum height of 100 km (62 miles).
This is rather far apart from the typical large, one- or two-day outbursts that scientists usually see from comets. And it represents an extreme amount of outburst for a comet of this type.
The observations were made over the course of several days beginning on Oct. 4 and ending on Oct. 9. The satellite data are dated between 12:00am ET on Oct. 4 and 6:00am ET on Oct. 9.
Basically, the jets emitted carbon dioxide as the sky exploded in a blazing display of bright blue and red rays. It was “a stunning super-outburst” says Young.
A super outburst occurs when a comet’s relatively icy nucleus starts to eject jets of gas and dust into space. The comet’s sunward motions make the jets spin quickly, leading to an explosion of jets and eruptions of dust and gas as far away as the Earth. “About two decades ago, the first jets were seen from a comet’s surface,” says Young. “Now, these jets are coming from the surface of comets far beyond where we can observe them.”
Unlike the first jets, which spew out dust particles and a few ice crystals, the most recent jets spew out huge jets of carbon dioxide. The jets can also reflect the sun’s rays, which makes them more luminous. And at these super outbursts, the jets burn more brightly than in other cases, the longest lasting in the first three days.
“In the current super outburst, we are getting some of the longest lasting and brightest to date,” says Young.
Young, who runs the Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, discovered a multitude of comets in the 1700s — in this case, as part of the Deep Impact spacecraft and the Cassini mission. At that time, astronomers thought that comets had a spherical nucleus. Although comet jets occur all over the solar system — not just from comets — the ones Young and his colleagues discovered have mostly spun sideways and are irregular in shape.
“The main difference is that these jets tend to be highly elongated,” he says.
It’s still not known why comets like Geminoid B have turned their jets toward the sun.
But, say Young, the jets found with these latest discoveries are helping scientists understand more about the delicate motions of comets. And that could help humans study them in even greater detail in the future.
“We now have new evidence that comets are prolific and remarkably dense at their core,” says Young. “It is now possible that the comets are slowly building up their poles and give information about how our solar system formed.”
Despite the fact that this most recent outburst was caused by Comet Geminoid B, it remains to be seen if more comets will produce outbursts like this. “The behavior we see from comets is a distant past. The next generation of comets is likely to have a less dramatic interaction with the sun,” says Young.
Read the original article on New Atlas, a collaboration of Washington Square News and Dunreith International. Read the original article on New Atlas. Copyright 2018. Follow New Atlas on Twitter.