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Sinkholes on comets surface produce dust jets, study says
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This image was obtained with Rosettas navigation camera on 21 June 2015, when the spacecraft was 177 km from the comet centre. - photo by Natalie Crofts
GOTTINGEN, Germany The beautiful jets of dust that follow comets are generated by sinkholes, according to a new study.

For the first time, scientists were able to trace the dust jets back to specific locations on the surface of a comet, according to the European Space Agency. The observations were made using high-resolution images from ESAs Rosetta spacecraft, which has been following the comet known as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenkos for about a year.

A number of the dust jets emerging from Rosettas comet can be traced back to active pits that were likely formed by a sudden collapse of the surface, a statement from the ESA reads. These sinkholes are providing a glimpse at the chaotic and diverse interior of the comet.

A study detailing how the pits erode was published in the journal Nature Wednesday. So far, scientists have identified 18 quasi-circular pits that range from about 30 to 300 feet in diameter in the comets northern hemisphere, according to the ESA. The pits can also be hundreds of feet deep.

We see jets arising from the fractured areas of the walls inside the pits, lead author Jean-Baptiste Vincent said in a statement. These fractures mean that volatiles trapped under the surface can be warmed more easily and subsequently escape into space.

The Rosetta mission is scheduled to continue until September 2016.