PARIS, July 17 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency's Rosetta probe has been gearing up to attempt a comet landing. Recently, the craft discovered something surprising about its intended target, Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The comet is actually two comets in one -- conjoined twins, or more technically, a "contact binary." As seen in the images captured by Rosetta, Churyumov-Gerasimenko's newly discovered sidekick is slightly smaller and looks as if it was just smashed into the side of the larger mass, like two pieces of clay. Together they measure about 2.5 miles around.
And though it looks and sounds pretty exciting, it's going to make landing a spacecraft on the comet quite a bit more difficult. After entering orbit around the comet next month, Rosetta will release a landing device called Philae onto the comet's surface in November.
"This form restricts potential landing zones," explained Philae navigator Eric Jurado.
France's National Centre for Space Studies apparently jumped the gun in unveiling images of the comet yesterday, along with a press release. They were quickly removed, but not before they made their rounds on the Internet. ESA released a statement saying more images will be released late Thursday. The agency explained the need to at least momentarily withhold information collected via its various missions.
"The aim of a proprietary period is to ensure that the academic teams who spent decades developing and running the sophisticated scientific instruments on-board the spacecraft are able to calibrate and verify the data," explained ESA officials, "as well as reap the rewards of their efforts."