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Close-up photos of comet show crack forming

As comet 67P gets closer to the sun, more of its ice will melt and more of its gases will sublimate, exposing new secrets.

By Brooks Hays
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Close-up photos of comet show crack forming
Close-up shot of the comet's neck reveals the crack. Photo by ESA/Rosetta/OSIRIS

DARMSTADT, Germany, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Along with the Rosetta probe's first batch of research results, the European Space Agency shared a series of close-up photographs of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The pictures were released on ESA's website, while the Rosetta mission's most important scientific findings were cataloged in seven papers published Thursday in the latest issue of the journal Science.

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Researchers hope the new results remind the public and other scientists that important work continues, even without the Philae lander -- which fell silent after bouncing into the shadow of a crater and running out of battery power.

"The story of the lander you already know, but that was only a small part of the mission," Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at the University of Maryland who works with Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS), told the Washington Post.

One of the studies focuses on the comet's peculiar peanut-meets-snowman (or a ridiculous rubber ducky) shape, while another analyzes the comet's coma -- the dust cloud that envelops the icy core. Researchers say there's still more to come.

As comet 67P gets closer to the sun, more of its ice will melt and more of its gases will sublimate, exposing new secrets trapped inside the comet since the early days of the solar system.

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"Comets start evolving faster and faster as they get closer to the sun," Bodewits explained.

Among the new revelations about the comet made this week, perhaps the most interesting is a crack forming in its narrower midsection.

"We wondered what could create the crack, and we think it's mechanical stress cause by the comet flexing," Holger Sierks, the lead OSIRIS scientist, told The Guardian.

"It could close up again, but there's certainly a crack. It's deep and wide, and it could break apart along the neck," Sierks said. "It wouldn't be the first comet that has fractured."

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