Man's comet connection is out of this world

QVMAG astronomer Martin George with a picture of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Ukrainian Klim Churyumov - one of two discoverers of the comet - is a colleague of Mr George. Picture: GEOFF ROBSON

QVMAG astronomer Martin George with a picture of the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Ukrainian Klim Churyumov - one of two discoverers of the comet - is a colleague of Mr George. Picture: GEOFF ROBSON

IT MIGHT be 400 million kilometres from earth, but Launceston astronomer Martin George has close links with a Ukranian-discovered comet.

The European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta will this year become the first to conduct close-up studies on the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko - discovered photographically by one of Mr George's colleagues.

The first landing on the comet will take place in November when a small lander descends to the surface.

Mr George said although several comets have been examined by spacecraft, this will be the first mission that is not simply a flyby.

"We can learn a lot about the conditions of the Solar System by studying comets," Mr George said.

"Having a lander on the surface to actually examine the material firsthand is very important.

"A remarkable feature of this comet is that it appears to have the shape of a toy rubber duck."

Ukrainians Klim Churyumov - with whom Mr George is still in contact - and Svetlana Gerasimenko are credited with spotting the comet in 1969.

Mr George said studies of the Churyumov-Gerasimenko would help people understand why missions to examine comets are important.

"Such studies ultimately take away some of the mysteries about comets," Mr George said.

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