Wait. Cliffs collapsing atop a comet? That happens? Apparently so, and there was nothing pre-Gigli Ben Affleck could have done to stop it. A landslide on a comet has been "documented by astronomers for the first time" in newly released before-and-after photos, the Guardian reported Tuesday. The images have allowed Rosetta scientists to make what they've called the "first compelling link" between an outburst of dust and gas and the collapse of a prominent cliff-edge named Aswan on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
This link between outbursts and crumbling cliff faces is detailed in a study published this week in Nature Astronomy. The first close-up images of the comet were captured in September 2014 and revealed Aswan on the large lobe of the comet's Seth region. Over the following year, the comet got closer along its orbit to the Sun. This caused an increase in the rate at which "buried ices" turned to vapor:
Sporadic and brief, high-speed releases of dust and gas punctuated this background activity with outbursts. One such outburst was captured by Rosetta's navigation camera on 10 July 2015, which could be traced back to a portion of the comet's surface that encompassed the Seth region.
When Aswan was next seen, just five days later, the fracture had been replaced by a "sharp edge" accompanied by fresh boulders at the cliff's foot. "The last time we saw the fracture intact was on 4 July, and in the absence of any other outburst events recorded in the following ten-day period, this is the most compelling evidence that we have that the observed outburst was directly linked to the collapse of the cliff," Maurizio Pajola, a leader of the study, said in a press release.
Rosetta wrapped up in September after more than 12 years of spacing it up, the Guardian added in their report. The European Space Agency probe spent two years in orbit around comet 67P.