Probe headed for duck-shaped comet

2014-07-18 10:35
Comet 67P in the constellation Ophiuchus. (ESA, AFP)

Comet 67P in the constellation Ophiuchus. (ESA, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - New images reveal that the deep-space comet on which mankind plans to land a probe later this year, has an "extraordinarily irregular", duck-like shape, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Thursday.

The icy body dubbed Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is composed of two parts: one flat and long, the other bulbous, according to a blog on the ESA website.

A photo of the comet was taken from the agency's Rosetta spacecraft, designed to team up with "67P" in August and follow the ice ball on its journey around the Sun.

"This week's images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko reveal an extraordinarily irregular shape", said the agency, adding: "This is no ordinary comet."

Some have likened the shape to a duck, it said, "with a distinct body and head".

Rosetta mission manger Fred Jansen said much more analysis and modelling will have to be done to determine how best to fly around the weirdly-shaped rock, and how to place a lander on it.


"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", he said.

Rosetta took a highly pixellated image of the rock from a distance of 12 000km on 14 July, which was then processed for a smoother image.

It also released a movie composed of a sequence of 36 interpolated images separated by 20 minutes.

Dual objects like this, known as "contact binaries", are not uncommon yet it was not clear how they are formed, ESA said.

"The scientific rewards of studying such a comet would be high, as a number of possibilities exist as to how they form."

One theory is two comets melded together in a low-velocity collision during the Solar System's formation billions of years ago, another that a single comet was tugged into a strange shape by the strong gravitational pull of a large object like a planet or the Sun.

A third theory is that "67P" may have once been round but became asymmetric due to ice evaporation as it first entered the Solar System from deep, cold outer Space, or on subsequent orbits around the Sun.

"One could also speculate that the striking dichotomy of the comet's morphology is the result of a near catastrophic impact event that ripped out one side of the comet", said the blog.

"Similarly, it is not unreasonable to think that a large outburst event may have weakened one side of the comet so much that it simply gave away, crumbling into space".

In November, Rosetta will send down a 100kg refrigerator-sized lander, Philae, which will hook itself to the comet's surface and carry out scientific experiments.
Read more on:    esa  |  france  |  space

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.