Scientists using NASA’s TESS probe have captured explosive emissions of dust, ice and gas as the comet approaches the sun. The images were taken as the comet approached the probe at the end of 2018. The team says this is the most complete and detailed observation yet of the comet’s natural eruption process.
Scientists say comets will pass through the field of view of NASA’s TESS probe as they move around the sun. In late 2018, the team decided to use NASA’s TESS probe to observe comet 46P/Wirtanen, a high-priority target for the team. Normal comet activity is driven by sunlight evaporating ice near the surface, and the flowing gas pulls dust out of the comet’s nucleus, forming the comet’s tail.
It is well known that comets erupt spontaneously, which significantly increases comet activity. The team said the cause of the eruptions was not yet known, but it was believed to be related to the conditions of the eruption, namely a sudden rise in the temperature of the comet’s nucleus. Previously, it had been difficult for scientists to capture outbreaks, especially in the early lightening phase.
The eruption captured by NASA’s TESS probe occurred earlier in the period, beginning on September 26, 2018. The brightening occurs in two stages, lasting an hour of flash, followed by a gradual transition of the second phase, in which the comet brightens up for eight hours. After the brightest stage, it took another two weeks for the comet to return to normal.