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A new study reveals that, contrary to first impressions, Rosetta did detect signs of an infant bow shock at the comet it explored for two years – the first ever seen forming anywhere in the solar system.
From 2014 to 2016, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft studied Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and its surroundings from near and far. It flew directly through the 'bow shock' several times both before and after the comet reached its closest point to the sun along its orbit, providing a unique opportunity to gather in situ measurements of this intriguing patch of space.
Comets - Scientists - Way - Plasma - System
Comets offer scientists an extraordinary way to study the plasma in the solar system. Plasma is a hot, gaseous state of matter comprising charged particles, and is found in the solar system in the form of the solar wind: a constant stream of particles flooding out from our star into space.
As the supersonic solar wind flows past objects in its path, such as planets or smaller bodies, it first hits a boundary known as a bow shock. As the name suggests, this phenomenon is somewhat like the wave that forms around the bow of a ship as it cuts through choppy water. Bow shocks have been found around comets, too – Halley's comet being a good example. Plasma phenomena vary as the medium interacts with the surrounding environment, changing the size, shape, and nature of structures such as bow shocks over time.
Rosetta - Signs - Feature - Mission - Centre
Rosetta looked for signs of such a feature over its two-year mission, and ventured over 1500 km away from 67P's centre on the hunt for large-scale boundaries around the comet – but apparently found nothing.
"We looked for a classical bow shock in the kind of area we'd expect to find one, far away from the comet's nucleus, but didn't find any, so we originally reached the conclusion...
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