While NASA seems to be more interested in landing astronauts on an asteroid, the ESA has set their sites on a different sort of landing. They sent out a space probe they hope will become the first to land on a comet.
The probe, launched by the ESA in March of 2004, is scheduled to reach comet 67P in August. During the course of its flight, it passed Mars in 2007, an asteroid in 2008, another asteroid in 2010, and then went into deep hybernation in June of 2011. It was revived back in January of this year.
Rosetta is now close enough to the comet that it was able to take pictures of the intended target.
However, when they snapped their photo, they were hardly expecting the pic they ended up with. It would seem that their target might actually be two separate lumps of rock and ice instead of one.
The picture above was taken by ESA’s Rosetta probe as it nears its final stage on a decade-long mission to drop a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta took the picture from a distance of about 12,000 kilometers from the comet, so the unusual shape might be the result of digital processing used to smooth the image, but the possibility still intrigues.
“Some people have already likened the shape to a duck, with a distinct head and body,” ESA mission scientist Matt Taylor said, though he added he felt it looked more like “a strange-looking potato.”
Speculation and theories abound, but one explanation for the odd shape is that at some point the comet split in half of that two comets may have somehow fused together at some point. Taylor also said it was possible the comet became deformed from its passage past Jupiter or the Sun.
It should take until next month for the comet to come into focus, as the Rosetta probe is scheduled to come within 100 km (62 miles) of the comet on August 6th, and it will observe the icy body for several months before attempting to drop a lander in November.