Space Probe Chasing 'Rubber Duck' Comet

Rosetta probe closing in on rare double comet

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 18, 2014 10:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – Space may have found itself a mascot: a double comet some say looks an awful lot like a giant rubber duck. The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe has been gaining on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since reawakening this year, hoping to send a lander to its surface. Now that it's a bit closer—about the distance from Germany to Hawaii, NASA notes—images snapped by the spacecraft's onboard scientific imaging system "faintly remind me of a rubber ducky with a body and a head" and reveal the comet is "unlike any other comet we have ever seen before," a project manager says.

That's because the comet is actually a "contact binary"—a twofold comet formed when astronomical bodies touch, explains Wired. It's not clear how these two bodies combined—or when, as the comet is 4 billion years old—but the discovery is likely to complicate the landing mission. Researchers will be able to learn more about the comet as Rosetta enters its orbit on Aug. 6, ahead of a landing on Nov. 11.

Photo provided by European Space Agency ESA shows a very raw image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was taken on July 14.
Photo provided by European Space Agency ESA shows a very raw image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that was taken on July 14.   (AP Photo/ESA)
This publicly provided image  by the European Space Agency ESA  shows an artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
This publicly provided image by the European Space Agency ESA shows an artist’s impression of the Rosetta orbiter deploying the Philae lander to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.   (AP Photo/ESA, C.Carreau)
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