Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, known in its abbreviated form as 67P, will reach its perihelion, its closest orbital point to the sun, this Thursday, August 13. What makes this event in our solar system unique is that the European robot probe Rosetta, which has already been circling 67P and taking notes for a year, has dispersed a robotic field worker by the name of Philae, which discovered a type of “primordial soup” on the comet and is now settled on 67P’s surface.
Philae and Rosetta will be present to document the changes that 67P undergoes on Thursday. However, due to the unfavorable landing spot where the washing-machine-sized Philae is located, a secure connection with Philae has not been sufficiently established.
Scientists expect to see a stream of ice, gas, and dust known as a coma formed in a tail-like fashion behind the comet which may stretch for millions of miles. Although the comet is not so far from the earth in terms of space geography, it is still far enough away that a telescope is necessary to track the comet from our planet.
Space.com also recently announced a Slooh webcast of the duck-shaped 67P’s activity as it barrels toward its perihelion. Mark McCaughrean, a senior scientist at the European Space Agency, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that due to large quantities of dust, “we have to keep Rosetta relatively high above the comet, which means we cannot study it in the detail that we might have wished for.”
(…) we have to keep Rosetta relatively high above the comet, which means we cannot study it in the detail that we might have wished for.
After approximately one more year of documenting 67P, leaders behind the project intend to softly crash-land Rosetta onto the comet’s surface to collect some final data before the connection with Rosetta destabilizes. Experts who have studied 67P expect that the comet’s two large chunks may one day split apart and cause a majestic scene in our solar system, providing for some of the best space photographs ever taken.