The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe made an interesting discovery this week. The comet it plans to land on appears to be two separate chunks of rock flying together.
Mission scientist Matt Taylor says the comet is either two objects traveling in tandem, or one object that was deformed as it passed past the Sun or Jupiter.
The series of images below were taken about 12,000 km from the comet. Dubbed the ‘rubber duck,’ the comet’s actual name is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Over the next few weeks, the Rosetta probe will close within 100km of the ‘rubber duck.’ After that, the probe will start mapping the object to find a suitable landing area for a tiny lander probe.
The above video shows scientists have a potentially daunting challenge ahead of them. As the Rosetta probe gets closer to the comet, scientists will know for sure the exact shape of the object.
Rosetta Mission Manager Fred Jensen had this to say in a blog post by the European Space Agency. “We currently see images that suggest a rather complex cometary shape, but there is still a lot that we need to learn before jumping to conclusions. Not only in terms of what this means for comet science in general, but also regarding our planning for science observations, and the operational aspects of the mission such as orbiting and landing.”
“We will need to perform detailed analyses and modelling of the shape of the comet to determine how best we can fly around such a uniquely shaped body, taking into account flight control and astrodynamics, the science requirements of the mission, and the landing-related elements like landing site analysis and lander-to-orbiter visibility. But, with fewer than 10 000 km to go before the 6 August rendezvous, our open questions will soon be answered.”