By Nur Hussein, staff writer

The 'rubber duck' shape of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

The ‘rubber duck’ shape of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

This has been a space rendezvous 10 years in the making; the Rosetta robotic space probe has travelled 400 million kilometers from Earth and has arrived at the comet known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and is now sending back photographs.

Rosetta is a space probe built by the European Space Agency (ESA), and lauched in March 2004. It’s a two-part probe that consists of an orbiter and a lander. It carries 12 scientific instruments aboard the orbiter, and 9 on the lander. The spacecraft will eventually launch the robot lander, named Philae, to soft-land on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to perform readings and send back data.

This landing is scheduled for November this year. Until then, the probe will be buzzing around the comet until it eventually settles into an orbit around it. The low-gravitation field of the comet means that the initial orbit of the craft will be a “controlled triangle” at a distance of around 100km from the comet, before it loops in tighter into a circular orbit around 30km from the comet.

Close up of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Close-up of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

The November landing of the Philae lander is something ESA scientists await with excitement, and one imagines no small amount of trepidation too. Once Philae detaches from the probe, the scientists cannot control its descent; the robot will have to rely on its own programmed logic to land safely. Analysis of the comet has identified landing sites mostly likely to be most suitable, most of them around the “head and shoulders” of the “duck”.

The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is a wonder unto itself too. 2 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, it appears to consist of two distinct halves, which some say resembles a giant rubber duck. The surface is strewn with giant boulders, and there are craters and cliffs. The comet will come to perihelion on 13th August 2015, where it will be closest to the sun and the ice will start to melt and form a tail. Rosetta will be there to witness the entire show.

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, taken by Rosetta on August 3rd, 2014

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, taken by Rosetta on August 3rd, 2014

Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for further reports about Rosetta’s progress mapping the comet. Till then, enjoy the pictures!

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Nur Hussein

Nur Hussein

Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein