A Closer Look at the Comet We'll Be Meeting Soon

Last week, as the Rosetta spacecraft came within 8,700 miles of its destination comet, it sent back images of what appeared to be a whirling rubber ducky in space. Now, using the same data, researchers have created a 3D model of the object. And, well, it still sorta looks like a rubber ducky.

To create this animated model, the ESA researchers interpolated the data to smooth out the pixels. They also changed the position of the dark strip across the "neck" of the comet by changing the direction of the illumination, thus making the shadow less prominent.

More from the ESA:

One area of the neck seems significantly brighter than surrounding regions. This bright region, seen most clearly in the first image, may result from differences in surface composition or grain size. For example, could it be a region of freshly exposed ice or the product of resurfacing. Alternatively, it could be a topographical effect. The cause of this bright region will become clearer once higher-resolution images and spectral data are available.

The comet's neck, that is, the join between the two segments of the comet nucleus, will hold important clues to the comet's evolution history. Studying this region from close up, not just with images but also with other instruments to assess its composition, will help determine if the comet is a result of two separate bodies that are fused together, or if it is one object that has eroded in a dramatic fashion to produce the shape we see.

Other features are also becoming apparent, although caution must still be exercised before drawing any robust scientific conclusions. But there is more reason this week to speculate that there might be a large depression – maybe an impact crater – on the smaller lobe of the comet (towards the bottom in the first image in the sequence). The images have a resolution of 100 metres per pixel, implying that this feature could be several hundred metres across. If it does indeed turn out to be an impact crater then its large size – along with composition information collected later – will help teach us about the comet's interior properties, perhaps offering information on its strength and porosity.

This project is starting to get pretty damn cool!And just wait until the probe lands on this thing.

[ ESA ]