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Summer Shorts: A Cometary Rubber Duck

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories.

Rosetta images of comet nucleus from 3,400 kilometers away (ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team)


ESA’s Rosetta mission, reported on in an earlier post, has got close enough to its cometary quarry to discover that 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko is not as simple as anyone thought – it’s a double nucleus, a giant rubber duck of a thing. Here’s a timelapse (below) of 36 images taken by Rosetta from a distance of approximately 7,500 kilometers, each separated by 20 minutes, and heavily interpolated. A brighter ‘ring’ of material seems to exist at the apparent neck joining these sub-nuclei (see the above image too). The big question now is where and how will the lander Philae try to set down?

(ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team)

Caleb A. Scharf About the Author: Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His books include Gravity's Engines (2012) and The Copernicus Complex (2014) (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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