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A strange volcanic comet erupted violently, spewing more than 1 million tons of gas, ice and “potential building blocks of life.” solar system.
The volatile comet known as 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann (29P) is about 37 miles (60 km) across and takes 14.9 years to orbit Earth. Sun. 29P is believed to be the most active volcanic comet in the Solar System. It’s one of about 100 comets known as “centaurs” ejected from the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy comets lurking outside. Neptune – between the two will enter a closer orbit around the Sun Jupiter and Neptune, according NASA (opens in new tab).
On November 22nd, an amateur astronomer named Patrick Wiggins noticed a sharp increase in the brightness of 29P. Spaceweather.com (opens in new tab). Subsequent observations by other astronomers determined that this luminosity spike was the result of a massive volcanic eruption. British Astronomical Union (opens in new tab) (BAA). During this period, the largest explosion occurred Big bang in September 2021.
An explosion of this magnitude is ‘rare’. Kai Stoddard-Jones (opens in new tab)A PhD candidate at UK’s Cardiff University, who took the next image of the 29P explosion, told Live Science. “Yes it is [also] It’s hard to say why it’s so big.”
The explosion was followed by two smaller explosions on November 27 and November 29, BAA reported.
Unlike volcanoes on Earth, 29P spews hot magma and ash from the mantle. This unusual volcanic activity is called cryovolcanism, or “cold volcanism.”
Cryovolcanic bodies, including a few comets and moons in the Solar System, such as Saturn’s Enceladus, Jupiter’s Europa, and Neptune’s Triton, have a surface crust surrounding a primarily solid icy core. Richard Miles (opens in new tab), the BAA astronomer who studied 29P, told Live Science. Over time, solar radiation causes the comet’s icy interior to turn from solid to gas, which creates pressure beneath the crust. Solar radiation also weakens the crust, and that pressure causes the outer shell to rupture, sending cryomagma into space.
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Cryomagma from comets such as 29P consists of carbon monoxide and nitrogen gas, as well as some icy solids and liquid hydrocarbons, which “may have provided the raw material from which life on Earth arose,” NASA officials wrote.
According to BAA, the plume from 29P’s latest explosion stretched 34,800 miles (56,000 km) from the comet and was traveling at a speed of 805 mph (1,295 km/h). “This plume probably accounted for more than a million tons of emissions,” Miles added.
Also, photographs of the exploding comet show that the plume was irregularly shaped like Pac-Man, indicating that the explosion originated from a point or region on the comet’s surface, according to Spaceweather.com.
These observations corroborate previous studies showing that the outbursts of 29P are related to its rotation. Miles and Stoddard-Jones believe that the slow rotation of the comet causes the sun’s radiation to be unevenly absorbed by the comet, triggering the explosion. The comet’s explosion currently coincides with its 57-day orbital period, the researchers said.
Researchers also suspect that 29P’s most explosive eruptions follow a cycle based on its orbit around the Sun. Several large eruptions were detected between 2008 and 2010, and now there have been two major eruptions in the past two years, Miles said. So at least one major outburst from 29P is likely by the end of 2023, he added.
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However, it is not clear how this long burst cycle occurs, because unlike other comets that approach the Sun during certain periods of their orbits, 29P usually has a circular orbit, meaning that it never approaches the Sun. than the average distance, Stoddard-Jones said.
29P has been largely ignored by the astronomical community since its discovery in 1927, but is being taken more seriously as new evidence of its unusual volcanic activity emerges, Miles said. “Exploring 29P will certainly yield new discoveries.”
The James Webb Space Telescope it plans to review 29P in detail early next year, he added.