publication 19-October-2017 09:14:49

The primordial nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Publication date: 28 July 2016

Authors: Davidsson, B.J.R., et al.

Journal: Astronomy & Astrophysics
Volume: 592
Page: A63
Year: 2016

Copyright: © ESO, 2016

Published online 28 July 2016

Context. We investigate the formation and evolution of comet nuclei and other trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) in the solar nebula and primordial disk prior to the giant planet orbit instability foreseen by the Nice model.

Aims. Our goal is to determine whether most observed comet nuclei are primordial rubble-pile survivors that formed in the solar nebula and young primordial disk or collisional rubble piles formed later in the aftermath of catastrophic disruptions of larger parent bodies. We also propose a concurrent comet and TNO formation scenario that is consistent with observations.

Methods. We used observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the ESA Rosetta spacecraft, particularly by the OSIRIS camera system, combined with data from the NASA Stardust sample-return mission to comet 81P/Wild 2 and from meteoritics; we also used existing observations from ground or from spacecraft of irregular satellites of the giant planets, Centaurs, and TNOs. We performed modeling of thermophysics, hydrostatics, orbit evolution, and collision physics.

Results. We find that thermal processing due to short-lived radionuclides, combined with collisional processing during accretion in the primordial disk, creates a population of medium-sized bodies that are comparably dense, compacted, strong, heavily depleted in supervolatiles like CO and CO2; they contain little to no amorphous water ice, and have experienced extensive metasomatism and aqueous alteration due to liquid water. Irregular satellites Phoebe and Himalia are potential representatives of this population. Collisional rubble piles inherit these properties from their parents. Contrarily, comet nuclei have low density, high porosity, weak strength, are rich in supervolatiles, may contain amorphous water ice, and do not display convincing evidence of in situ metasomatism or aqueous alteration.
[Remainder of abstract truncated]

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Last Update: 28 July 2016

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