Apr 19, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

ESA Rosetta Spacecraft Is Showing Off Its ‘Cheops’

Oct 14, 2014 10:51 PM EDT

Since arriving to its target Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last month, the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta Mission has made great strides in the first ever orbit of the intriguing comet. And while Rosetta mission team members are preparing to touch down on the surface for a more up-close view of the comet, Rosetta's Optical, Spectroscopic and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) is taking a look at the surface from afar. And in the newest batch of images sent back Monday morning, researchers have revealed a large pyramid-shaped boulder standing 82-feet-tall near the intended landing site for Rosetta's Philae lander.

Nicknaming the boulder pyramid "Cheops" after the largest of Egypt's pyramids in the Giza complex, the ESA has over the past few weeks scanned the surface of the strange comet and found that Cheops may hide answers to the comet's untraditional make-up. Taking close-up and wide-angle views of the boulder and its surrounding field to better understanding what may be expected on the surface, the ESA now believes that Cheops would be a great candidate for further inspection when the Philae rover touches down early this Nov. 12.

"The surface of Cheops seems to be very craggy and irregular" comet researcher with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Holger Sierks says. "Especially intriguing are small patches on the boulder's surface displaying the same brightness and texture as the underground. It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder's cracks."

As the first mission to successfully place a satellite in orbit around a comet, Rosetta's mission for at least the next year will be to observe and analyze the dynamics of the changing icy comet as it approaches closer to the sun. While much is still not known about Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko  or its boulder Cheops, researchers with the ESA are hopeful that as the comet grows more active, Cheops and its surrounding boulders may move and become more visible to Rosetta's camera.

Looking to determine not only size, density and composition, but also perhaps gain insights into how the strange structures formed in the history of the comet, the ESA is actively image the comet. However, team members are eager to find what additional information they can acquire next month when Philae attempts the first ever soft landing on a comet, and takes a stroll around the icy surface in search of answers. 

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