Rosetta Spacecraft Approaching Twofold Comet

As the European Space Agency’s spacecraft Rosetta is slowly approaching its destination, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet is again proving to be full of surprises. New images obtained by OSIRIS, the onboard scientific imaging system, confirm the body’s peculiar shape hinted at in earlier pictures. Comet 67P is obviously different from other comets visited so far.

“The distance still separating Rosetta from 67P is now far from astronomical,” said OSIRIS Principal Investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. “It’s a trip of less than 14,000 kilometers [about 8,700 miles]. That’s comparable to traveling from Germany to Hawaii on a summer holiday.”

However, while taking a snapshot of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s highest mountain, from Germany is an impossible feat, Rosetta’s camera OSIRIS is doing a great job at catching ever clearer glimpses of its similarly sized destination. Images obtained on July 14 clearly show a tantalizing shape. The comet’s nucleus consists of two distinctly separated parts.

“This is unlike any other comet we have ever seen before,” said OSIRIS project manager Carsten G?ttler from the MPS. “The images faintly remind me of a rubber ducky with a body and a head.” How 67P received this intriguing shape is still unclear. “At this point we know too little about 67P to allow for more than an educated guess,” said Sierks. In the next months, the scientists hope to determine more of the comet’s physical and mineralogical properties. These could help them determine whether the comet’s body and head were formerly two individual bodies.

This animated sequence combines 36 interpolated images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, each separated by 20 minutes. This comet is the destination for the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, which includes three NASA instruments in its 21-instrument science payload. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

This animated sequence combines 36 interpolated images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, each separated by 20 minutes. This comet is the destination for the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which includes three NASA instruments in its 21-instrument science payload. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

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