The Philae lander’s mission could come to an end as scientists have warned that the comet it is attached to is undergoing the most dangerous part of its mission through space.
Gerasimenko reached perihelion, its closest point to the sun, today. A host of jets of gas and dust have been thrown out of the comet, which could throw Philae off into space, or it could break up entirely.
An expert said that there was a roughly 20 per cent chance that the comet would break-up, but that it was unlikely to happen during the mission.
Philae dropped onto the comet on November 12, when it started examining its new home. It hasn’t been heard from since July 9, and scientists are now anxious to see what will happen to it during the difficult period.
"Obviously the activity is dangerous for Philae,” said Philae operations engineer Barbara Cozzoni. "First, the dust can prevent Philae collecting energy. And Philae is not anchored, so it might change the attitude of Philae — but we don't think it's going to send it into space."
The Rosetta orbiter, which flies around the comet to support the Philae lander during its mission, has been moved away from the comet to ensure its safety. It is now sitting 327-kilometers from the comet.
Measurements by the Rosetta orbiter suggest that up to 300 kilograms of water vapour - equivalent to two filled bath tubs - are spewing out of the comet every second. This is 1,000 times more water than was observed a year ago when the spacecraft first approached the comet.
The comet is also thought to be shedding up to 1,000 kilograms of dust per second, threatening to cloud Rosetta's sensitive instruments and obscure its star tracking navigation equipment.
Scientists revealed that yesterday Rosetta's Osiris scientific camera took dramatic images of a second powerful outburst from 67P's larger lobe.
The first occurred on July 29 when bright jet of gas and dust was seen erupting from the comet's neck region at between 10 and 30 metres per second.
Activity is expected to increase even further over the next few weeks as the sun's "thermal pulse" works its way through the comet.
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
In pictures: European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
1/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Image of Comet 67P/CG taken by the Philae lander from a distance of approximately 3km from the surface
2/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Rosetta's lander Philae took this parting shot of its mothership shortly after separation
3/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Parting shot of the Philae lander after separation, captured by one of Rosetta's cameras
4/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A technician celebrates after the successful landing of the Philae lander, in the control room at the ESA headquarters in Darmstadt
5/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Scientists celebrate at a mission observation centre in Toulouse, southern France as they receive information that Philae has landed on the Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet
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Astronomer Klim Ivanovych Churyumov, who discovered the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 1969, reacts after the successful landing of the Philae lander on the comet
7/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A model demonstrates how the landing device Philae, of the space probe Rosetta, stands on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at the press center of the satellite control center of the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany
8/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
An artist impression of Rosetta's lander Philae on the surface of comet
9/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Picture taken on October 28 by the navigation camera on Rosetta shows the boulder-strewn neck region of comet 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It was captured from a distance of 9.7 km from the center of the comet
10/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Picture taken on October 24 shows a raised plateau on the larger lobe of the comet
11/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
The probe is supposed to fly to a comet and put down a small laboratory on the top of it
12/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A scientist from the European Space Agency with an airworthy copy of space probe 'Rosetta' in the control center in Darmstadt, Germany
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Maneuvers designed for the actual space probe are simulated with the replica. 'Rosetta' will be woken up from an energy saving hibernation after 957 days
14/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
A European Space Agency employee sits in the control room for the Rosetta mission in Darmstadt, Germany
15/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
Scientists at the European Space Agency are expecting their comet-chasing probe Rosetta to wake from almost three years of hibernation
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Europe's Rosetta probe on a NASA mission
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NASA is participating in the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, whose goal is to observe one such space-bound icy dirt ball from up close for months on end
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An impression of the Philae lander
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ESA probe Rosetta with Mars in the background. The three-tonne probe blasted off aboard an an Ariane V rocket from Kourou, French Guiana in 2004
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Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, the spacecraft measures 32 m across including the solar arrays, while the comet nucleus is thought to be about 4 km wide
21/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
The spacecraft, festooned with 25 instruments between its lander and orbiter (including three from NASA), is programmed to 'wake up' from hibernation
22/22 European Space Agency's Rosetta mission
An Ariane V carrying the three-tonne probe Rosetta blasting off from Kourou, beginning a decade-long quest to hunt a comet in the depths of the Solar System and shadow it around the Sun in a bid to tease out secrets of how life began on Earth
Osiris principal investigator Dr Holger Sierks said there was a strong likelihood of the comet breaking in half, but not just yet.
A fracture 500 metres long and up to 2.4 metres wide has been observed crossing the comet's neck.
Asked about the possibility of Rosetta witnessing the comet splitting in two, Dr Sierks said: "Let me phrase it this way: I think there are good chances it will break up, but not in this orbit. The probability of it breaking up is in the region of 20%. But the chances it will break up while we are there are very minute."
Currently the fracture is in shadow and Rosetta too far away to photograph it.
"We will see it again in spring next year, and then we'll compare before and after to see how the crack has changed," Dr Sierks added.
Additional reporting by Press AssociationReuse content