Context. Dust jets (i.e., fuzzy collimated streams of cometary material arising from the nucleus) have been observed in situ on all comets since the Giotto mission flew by comet 1P/Halley in 1986, and yet their formation mechanism remains unknown. Several solutions have been proposed involving either specific properties of the active areas or the local topography to create and focus the gas and dust flows. While the nucleus morphology seems to be responsible for the larger features, high resolution imagery has shown that broad streams are composed of many smaller jets (a few meters wide) that connect directly to the nucleus surface. Aims. We monitored these jets at high resolution and over several months to understand what the physical processes are that drive their formation and how this affects the surface. Methods. Using many images of the same areas with different viewing angles, we performed a 3-dimensional reconstruction of collimated jets and linked them precisely to their sources on the nucleus. Results. We show here observational evidence that the northern hemisphere jets of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko arise from areas with sharp topographic changes and describe the physical processes involved. We propose a model in which active cliffs are the main source of jet-like features and therefore of the regions eroding the fastest on comets. We suggest that this is a common mechanism taking place on all comets.
- Comets: general
- Comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko