Rosetta scientists answer question of how ‘rubber duck’ Comet 67P got its shape

Image from July 14, 2015, showing the double-lobed or “rubber duck” shape of Comet 67P and outgassing of water vapor, gas, and dust. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Image from July 14, 2015, showing the double-lobed or “rubber duck” shape of Comet 67P and outgassing of water vapour, gas, and dust. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, or 67P, has been the focus of intense study by the Rosetta spacecraft since 2014. One of the key mysteries scientists have been trying to figure out is how the comet became the odd “rubber duck” shape that it is, with its two distinct lobes. Now they think they have the answer: Comet 67P was formed by the collision of two other, separate comets which fused together to form its distinctive shape.

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Rosetta spacecraft observes ‘dramatic and rapid’ changes on surface of Comet 67P

Sequence of images showing the surface changes in the Imhotep region. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Sequence of images showing the surface changes in the Imhotep region. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Since August 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft has been orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, providing an unprecedented look at an active comet as it moves closer to the Sun in its orbit. As expected, the level of activity increased the closer the comet was to the Sun, with jets of water vapour, gas, and dust becoming bigger and more prominent. The comet reached perihelion, the closest point to the Sun on its orbit, on Aug. 13, 2015. For the first time ever, a spacecraft is observing this activity close-up, as it happens. But now, scientists have been noticing other dramatic and rapid changes on the comet’s surface as well, which haven’t been explained yet.

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Image Gallery: the jets of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Cropped zoom of gas and dust jets on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Cropped zoom of dust jets on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Great new OSIRIS images of individual dust jets coming off comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, from the Rosetta spacecraft. They were taken about half an hour after the Sun had set in the region, and show many individual jets erupting from the comet’s surface.

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