Rosetta Gets Most Detailed View Yet of Lumpy Comet

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As the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft closes in on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, more and more detail of the comet’s odd-shaped nucleus is being revealed to the mission’s cameras. In this detailed view of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a lumpy terrain is slowly being resolved showing some surprises along the way.

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Ever since the comet’s nucleus was found to consist of two lobes, astronomers recognized the object as a “contact binary” — when two separate chunks of cometary material attach to one another and fuse. From the distance, the bi-lobed comet resembled a rubber ducky, but at closer inspection, that shape is quickly diminishing.

As noted by mission scientists, there is a strikingly bright feature at the “neck” attaching the large and small lobes, likely caused by differing compositions of material in the nucleus.

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“The only thing we know for sure at this point is that this neck region appear brighter compared to the head and body of the nucleus,” Holger Sierks, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, said in a statement.

But until Rosetta’s Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) camera gets a closer look, we won’t know for sure what’s causing the brightening. One thing is for certain, however, this is only the first of many curiosities Rosetta will uncover as it continues to chase 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, eventually landing its small lander Philae in November.

For more on the Rosetta mission, follow the ESA blog.

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on July 30, 2014 from a distance of about 1,630 kilometers from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM