Rosetta comet fires off its most spectacular blast yet

The comet has reached its closest point to the sun

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The Independent Online

Rosetta’s comet has fired off the brightest “fireworks” ever seen as it reaches its closest point to the Sun.

As a comet approaches a star and warms, ice begins to vaporise and gas jets burst out, making the comet speed up.

During these outbursts, known as perihelion, scientists say the material in the jet was travelling at 10 metres per second and the comet could potentially split in half with the force.

One recent outburst even proved so strong that it pushed away an incoming solar wind, streams of magnetic energy from the Sun.

The jets took place on 29 July and were registered by several Rosetta instruments at their vantage point of 186km away from the comet.

Images taken by Rosetta's scientific camera Osiris show a jet of gas and dust emerging from the side of the 'neck' joining the comet's two lobes.

A 500-metre-long fracture has already been identified in the neck, this could lead to the break up of the comet if interior forces build up due to rising temperatures.

If the rupture does occur, scientists believe the Rosetta will send back striking images.

Dr Carsten Guttler, Osiris team member at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, said: "This is the brightest jet we've seen so far. Usually the jets are quite faint compared to the nucleus and we need to stretch the contrast of the images to make them visible, but this one is brighter than the nucleus."

The Rosetta space probe was launched in 2004 and in November last year the mission performed the first ever successful landing on a comet.

Additional reporting by PA