The track of a bounding boulder is seen in this image from the Rosetta spacecraft’s narrow-angle camera. Image: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; edit by Astronomy Now
Researchers sifting through a treasure trove of 76,000 high-resolution photos of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that were captured during the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission have found striking images of a huge boulder bouncing across the surface and clear signs of a cliff that collapsed as the comet neared the Sun.
The research is intended to shed light on the material properties of the comet, the strength of rocks and boulders and the interactions that trigger landslides and other major changes as the comet’s activity peaked during a visit to the inner solar system.
One such bouncing boulder, measuring some 10 metres (33 feet) across, was spotted near the base of a 50-metre-high (164-foot-high) cliff, leaving “footprints” in the loose soil as it bounded along in the comet’s low gravity.
A reference view of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is shown at left with before-and-after images at right showing bounce marks and a large boulder that fell from a nearby cliff. The chart at bottom shows how the boulder bounded across the surface before coming to a rest. Image: ...