Rosetta probes how to land on ‘rubber duck’

The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled the spot where the Rosetta space probe will attempt it’s first ever landing.

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Codenamed “J”, the site offers the best chance for a safe landing on an exceptionally difficult target, while also offering conditions for meeting scientific goals, ESA said.

When scientists first selected comet 67P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko) as the landing site for Rosetta’s lander Philae they made the reasonable assumption that the comet’s nucleus would be roughly potato-shaped.

But as Rosetta journeyed towards to comet, and scientists got a closer look, they found it more closely resembled a rubber duck.

Rosetta flight director, Andrea Accomazzo, says the downside of this is it increases the chance of problems, such as having the craft tip over, crash into a rock or fall off a cliff.

“The shape of the comet is a little bit unexpected. We consider it at the same time fantastic, a unique object. On the other side there’s some headache in identifying some proper landing sites because of the unusual shape,” she said.

The site is one of five potential locations for landing, which is scheduled for November 11.

Once it lands, 10 instruments are set to start taking pictures, collecting samples and drilling for material beneath the surface.

Project scientist, Matt Taylor says the landing site is the kind of challenge scientists are made for.

“Scientifically, it’s very entertaining. It has aspects of a number of different comets wrapped in one. It offers so much scientifically but also it’s a massive challenge technologically,” he said.

Comet “67P” comprises two lobes joined by a narrow neck, resembling the shape of a rubber duck — though one that is pitch-black, darker even than charcoal.

Three of the candidate sites were on the smaller lobe, or head of the “duck”, and two on the larger lobe, or body.

The oval-shaped landing site called “J” is roughly where the duck’s forehead would be.