Outbursts occur commonly on comets 1 with different frequencies and scales 2,3. Despite multiple observations suggesting various triggering processes 4,5, the driving mechanism of such outbursts is still poorly understood. Landslides have been invoked 6 to explain some outbursts on comet 103P/Hartley 2, although the process required a pre-existing dust layer on the verge of failure. The Rosetta mission observed several outbursts from its target comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which were attributed to dust generated by the crumbling of materials from collapsing cliffs 7,8. However, none of the aforementioned works included definitive evidence that landslides occur on comets. Amongst the many features observed by Rosetta on the nucleus of the comet, one peculiar fracture, 70 m long and 1 m wide, was identified on images obtained in September 2014 at the edge of a cliff named Aswan 9. On 10 July 2015, the Rosetta Navigation Camera captured a large plume of dust that could be traced back to an area encompassing the Aswan escarpment 7. Five days later, the OSIRIS camera observed a fresh, sharp and bright edge on the Aswan cliff. Here we report the first unambiguous link between an outburst and a cliff collapse on a comet. We establish a new dust-plume formation mechanism that does not necessarily require the breakup of pressurized crust or the presence of supervolatile material, as suggested by previous studies 7. Moreover, the collapse revealed the fresh icy interior of the comet, which is characterized by an albedo >0.4, and provided the opportunity to study how the crumbling wall settled down to form a new talus.
|State||Published - 2 Mar 2017|