Two ambitious probes are on their way to their targets. The first one I want to talk about is Rosetta, the European probe that’s been on its way to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the past ten years. It’ll actually fly in formation with the comet throughout its perihelion, and it’ll also drop a tiny lander called Philae to rest on the comet’s surface. It’s closed to about 12,000 km and gotten its first really good look at the comet’s nucleus — and boy, is it weird looking! It turns out to be a contact binary (two masses that have sort of glommed together) that looks remarkably like a rubber duck.
Contact binaries turn out to be very common among asteroids; there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be common among comets too. 😉
And the other probe I want to talk about is Curiosity, the nuclear-powered rover trucking along on Mars. It has a ways to go before it reaches its target, Mount Sharp, but it’s doing some great science along the way. JPL has released a video showing for the first time what it actually looks like when it’s operating ChemCam. ChemCam is a spectrograph that works in conjunction with a powerful laser to vaporize bits of rock so it can analyze the plasma briefly produced. This sequence was photographed by the MAHLI camera on the end of the robot’s arm and then assembled into a movie by JPL: