The Rosetta spacecraft is approaching its destination: a comet with an irregular shape reminiscent of a rubber duck.
Launched in March 2004, Rosetta was built to perform a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As it is nearing its target, the comet is coming into greater focus – and its shape is highly irregular.
On 14 July, from a distance of 12,000 km, Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow angle camera captured images of the comet, which seems to consist of two parts. The European Space Agency compares the comet’s shape to a duck, and looking at the animated sequence of images, we can see why. The comet is too far away for any surface texture to be seen in the 36 photos, which were taken 20 minutes apart and provide a 360-degree view of the comet’s shape.
It actually isn’t uncommon to find comets that consist of two distinct parts. These “contact binaries,” as they are called, may be formed when two comets collide at low speeds and meld together in the process. Alternatively, a single comet may get partially pulled apart under the gravity of a planet or star, and other possibilities include the comet simply evaporating into an irregular shape, or being left in that shape after an impact.
Rosetta is scheduled to rendezvous with the comet on August 6. It awoke from a decade of slumber in January.
Source: European Space Agency