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A portrait of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Astronomy and Space Physics.
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2007 (English)In: Space Science Reviews, ISSN 0038-6308, Vol. 128, no 1-4, 23-66 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In 2003, comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was selected as the new target of the Rosetta mission as the most suitable alternative to the original target, comet 46P/Wirtanen, on the basis of orbital considerations even though very little was known about the physical properties of its nucleus. In a matter of a few years and based on highly focused observational campaigns as well as thorough theoretical investigations, a detailed portrait of this nucleus has been established that will serve as a baseline for planning the Rosetta operations and observations. In this review article, we present a novel method to determine the size and shape of a cometary nucleus: several visible light curves were inverted to produce a size–scale free three–dimensional shape, the size scaling being imposed by a thermal light curve. The procedure converges to two solutions which are only marginally different. The nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko emerges as an irregular body with an effective radius (that of the sphere having the same volume) = 1.72 km and moderate axial ratios a/b = 1.26 and a/c = 1.5 to 1.6. The overall dimensions measured along the principal axis for the two solutions are 4.49–4.75 km, 3.54–3.77 km and 2.94–2.92 km. The nucleus is found to be in principal axis rotation with a period = 12.4–12.7 h. Merging all observational constraints allow us to specify two regions for the direction of the rotational axis of the nucleus: RA = 220°+50° −30° and Dec = −70° ± 10° (retrograde rotation) or RA = 40°+50° -30° and Dec = +70°± 10° (prograde), the better convergence of the various determinations presently favoring the first solution. The phase function, although constrained by only two data points, exhibits a strong opposition effect rather similar to that of comet 9P/Tempel 1. The definition of the disk–integrated albedo of an irregular body having a strong opposition effect raises problems, and the various alternatives led to a R-band geometric albedo in the range 0.045–0.060, consistent with our present knowledge of cometary nuclei. The active fraction is low, not exceeding ~ 7% at perihelion, and is probably limited to one or two active regions subjected to a strong seasonal effect, a picture coherent with the asymmetric behaviour of the coma. Our slightly downward revision of the size of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko resulting from the present analysis (with the correlative increase of the albedo compared to the originally assumed value of 0.04), and our best estimate of the bulk density of 370 kg m−3, lead to a mass of ~ 8 × 10e12 kg which should ease the landing of Philae and insure the overall success of the Rosetta mission.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 128, no 1-4, 23-66 p.
Keyword [en]
Solar system, comet, cometary nucleus, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta space mission
National Category
Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-15048DOI: doi:10.1007/s11214-007-9146-xOAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-15048DiVA: diva2:42819
Available from: 2008-02-04 Created: 2008-02-04Bibliographically approved

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Davidsson, Björn
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