Surprise!* Rosetta’s target comet 67P/C-G is apparently a contact binary, with a nucleus made of two objects joined at a point and held together by gravity based on the latest images in from the spacecraft. Tumbling through space on its orbit around the Sun, it bears an uncanny resemblance to… a giant marshmallow Peep. (The chick kind, not the bunny.)
At nearly 4 km across at its longest dimension, that’s one big Peep!
Rosetta is now in its final approach to the comet (8,241 km to go at the time of this writing) and will attempt to establish orbit around it on August 6. In November its Philae lander will be deployed to the comet’s surface to study its composition first-hand. But the curious and unexpected shape of 67P will pose some challenges for ESA’s science team.
“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,” said Rosetta Mission Manager Fred Jansen on July 17. ” 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.”
*It’s not really a surprise since the images that were used to make the video above were “leaked” a couple of days ago, but this view is much more well-presented.
Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
PS: Want to be a part of Rosetta and Philae’s approach? Participate in ESA’s “Are We There Yet?” campaign here.