Rosetta spacecraft sees possible ‘double’ comet

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Rosetta's comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, has an odd indentation that suggests it may be two objects joined together.

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko may actually be two objects stitched together. New images from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft show an odd constriction near the middle of the comet, suggesting that two clumps of matter may have merged in what scientists call a contact binary.

The conclusions are preliminary, as Rosetta was still roughly 12,000 kilometers away from the comet when the images were taken. The comet could also have had a more regular single shape with parts carved out through impacts or ice melting as the object circled the sun, mission scientists say. They will have more details about the comet’s shape and how it could influence Rosetta’s landing on the object next month when the spacecraft arrives at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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