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Comet-Chasing Space Probe Makes Surprise Discovery

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 9:33am
The Associated Press

Behind-the-scenes images from ESA’s operations centre on the day that Rosetta woke up from 31 months in deep-space hibernation. (ESA-J. Mai)Berlin (AP) — Scientists say a space probe aiming to become the first to land on a comet has taken images that appear to show its target could actually be two separate lumps of rock and ice flying in tandem.

The pictures released Thursday were taken by the European Space Agency's Rosetta probe, which is nearing the final stage of its decade-long mission to rendezvous with and drop a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The landing is planned for November.

Mission scientist Matt Taylor says the images shot from several thousand miles away show 67P is shaped like "a strange-looking potato."

He says this could mean the comet is a so-called contact binary composed of two distinct parts, or that it's one unit deformed by its passage past Jupiter or the sun.

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