Publication archive

Publication archive

The surface and subsurface of comets preserve material from the formation of the solar system. The properties of cometary material thus provide insight into the physical and chemical conditions during their formation. We present mass spectra taken by the Ptolemy instrument 20 minutes after the initial touchdown of the Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Regular mass distributions indicate the presence of a sequence of compounds with additional -CH2- and -O- groups (mass/charge ratios 14 and 16, respectively). Similarities with the detected coma species of comet Halley suggest the presence of a radiation-induced polymer at the surface. Ptolemy measurements also indicate an apparent absence of aromatic compounds such as benzene, a lack of sulfur-bearing species, and very low concentrations of nitrogenous material.
Published: 01 August 2015
The structure and composition of cometary constituents, down to their microscopic scale, are critical witnesses of the processes and ingredients that drove the formation and evolution of planetary bodies toward their present diversity. On board Rosetta's lander Philae, the Comet Infrared and Visible Analyser (CIVA) experiment took a series of images to characterize the surface materials surrounding the lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Images were collected twice: just after touchdown, and after Philae finally came to rest, where it acquired a full panorama. These images reveal a fractured surface with complex structure and a variety of grain scales and albedos, possibly constituting pristine cometary material.
Published: 01 August 2015
Thermal and mechanical material properties determine comet evolution and even solar system formation because comets are considered remnant volatile-rich planetesimals. Using data from the Multipurpose Sensors for Surface and Sub-Surface Science (MUPUS) instrument package gathered at the Philae landing site Abydos on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, we found the diurnal temperature to vary between 90 and 130 K. The surface emissivity was 0.97, and the local thermal inertia was 85 ± 35 J m-2 K-1s-1/2. The MUPUS thermal probe did not fully penetrate the near-surface layers, suggesting a local resistance of the ground to penetration of >4 megapascals, equivalent to >2 megapascal uniaxial compressive strength. A sintered near-surface microporous dust-ice layer with a porosity of 30 to 65% is consistent with the data.
Published: 01 August 2015
The structure of the upper layer of a comet is a product of its surface activity. The Rosetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) on board Philae acquired close-range images of the Agilkia site during its descent onto comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. These images reveal a photometrically uniform surface covered by regolith composed of debris and blocks ranging in size from centimeters to 5 meters. At the highest resolution of 1 centimeter per pixel, the surface appears granular, with no apparent deposits of unresolved sand-sized particles. The thickness of the regolith varies across the imaged field from 0 to 1 to 2 meters. The presence of aeolian-like features resembling wind tails hints at regolith mobilization and erosion processes. Modeling suggests that abrasion driven by airfall-induced particle "splashing" is responsible for the observed formations.
Published: 01 August 2015

Rosetta is ESA's comet-chasing mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Launched on 2 March 2004, the spacecraft travelled for 10 years and required three gravity-assist flybys at Earth and one at Mars before homing in on its target.

Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the Sun and its planets formed. By studying the gas, dust and structure of the nucleus and organic materials associated with the comet, via both remote and in situ observations, the Rosetta mission could be the key to unlocking the history and evolution of our Solar System.

Table of contents:

  • Europe's comet-chaser
  • The long trek
  • A human endeavour
  • Rendezvous with a comet
  • Pull-out poster: Rosetta mission selfie
  • Landing on a comet
  • The Rosetta orbiter
  • The Philae lander
  • Getting to know the comet
  • An evolving story
  • An international enterprise
  • Join the adventure

Published: 01 August 2015
Introduction to the 31 July 2015 special issue of the journal Science, "Philae's First Days on the Comet". The issue presents a first set of results acquired aboard Philae in the first 63 hours after it separated from Rosetta, descended, initially touched down on the comet at the site known as Agilkia, and finally came to rest at the site known as Abydos.
Published: 01 August 2015
Planck data when combined with ancillary data provide a unique opportunity to separate the diffuse emission components of the inner Galaxy. The purpose of the paper is to elucidate the morphology of the various emission components in the strong star-formation region lying inside the solar radius and to clarify the relationship between the various components. The region of the Galactic plane covered is l = 300° → 0° → 60° where star-formation is highest and the emission is strong enough to make meaningful component separation. The latitude widths in this longitude range lie between 1° and 2°, which correspond to FWHM z-widths of 100−200 pc at a typical distance of 6 kpc. The four emission components studied here are synchrotron, free-free, anomalous microwave emission (AME), and thermal (vibrational) dust emission. These components are identified by constructing spectral energy distributions (SEDs) at positions along the Galactic plane using the wide frequency coverage of Planck (28.4−857 GHz) in combination with low-frequency radio data at 0.408−2.3 GHz plus WMAP data at 23−94 GHz, along with far-infrared (FIR) data from COBE-DIRBE and IRAS. The free-free component is determined from radio recombination line (RRL) data. AME is found to be comparable in brightness to the free-free emission on the Galactic plane in the frequency range 20−40 GHz with a width in latitude similar to that of the thermal dust; it comprises 45 ± 1% of the total 28.4 GHz emission in the longitude range l = 300° → 0° → 60°. The free-free component is the narrowest, reflecting the fact that it is produced by current star-formation as traced by the narrow distribution of OB stars. It is the dominant emission on the plane between 60 and 100 GHz. RRLs from this ionized gas are used to assess its distance, leading to a free-free z-width of FWHM ≈ 100 pc.
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Published: 21 July 2015
Reference: CDF-148(C)Public

This document presents the results of a study, performed by ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) in 2014, that analysed the feasibility of a 150 kg-class rover compliant with a potential Mars Sample Return mission and its "FAST" mobility performance requirements. The rover is also able to provide in-situ science for supporting future Mars robotic exploration. For this study, a landing platform delivered by NASA/JPL was considered, in the view of a possible ESA/NASA cooperation in the 2024 timeframe.

Published: 31 October 2014
The Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) experiment onboard the Rosetta spacecraft currently orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has yielded unprecedented views of a comet's nucleus. We present here the first ever observations of meter-scale fractures on the surface of a comet. Some of these fractures form polygonal networks. We present an initial assessment of their morphology, topology, and regional distribution. Fractures are ubiquitous on the surface of the comet's nucleus. Furthermore, they occur in various settings and show different topologies suggesting numerous formation mechanisms, which include thermal insulation weathering, orbital-induced stresses, and possibly seasonal thermal contraction. However, we conclude that thermal insolation weathering is responsible for creating most of the observed fractures based on their morphology and setting in addition to thermal models that indicate diurnal temperature ranges exceeding 200 K and thermal gradients of ~15 K/min at perihelion are possible. Finally, we suggest that fractures could be a facilitator in surface evolution and long-term erosion.
Published: 21 August 2015
A number of modes of oscillations of particles and fields can exist in space plasmas. Since the early 1970s, space missions have observed noise-like plasma waves near the geomagnetic equator known as 'equatorial noise'. Several theories were suggested, but clear observational evidence supported by realistic modelling has not been provided. Here we report on observations by the Cluster mission that clearly show the highly structured and periodic pattern of these waves. Very narrow-banded emissions at frequencies corresponding to exact multiples of the proton gyrofrequency (frequency of gyration around the field line) from the 17th up to the 30th harmonic are observed, indicating that these waves are generated by the proton distributions. Simultaneously with these coherent periodic structures in waves, the Cluster spacecraft observes 'ring' distributions of protons in velocity space that provide the free energy for the waves. Calculated wave growth based on ion distributions shows a very similar pattern to the observations.
Published: 15 July 2015
Pits have been observed on many cometary nuclei mapped by spacecraft. It has been argued that cometary pits are a signature of endogenic activity, rather than impact craters such as those on planetary and asteroid surfaces. Impact experiments and models cannot reproduce the shapes of most of the observed cometary pits, and the predicted collision rates imply that few of the pits are related to impacts. Alternative mechanisms like explosive activity have been suggested, but the driving process remains unknown. Here we report that pits on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko are active, and probably created by a sinkhole process, possibly accompanied by outbursts. We argue that after formation, pits expand slowly in diameter, owing to sublimation-driven retreat of the walls. Therefore, pits characterize how eroded the surface is: a fresh cometary surface will have a ragged structure with many pits, while an evolved surface will look smoother. The size and spatial distribution of pits imply that large heterogeneities exist in the physical, structural or compositional properties of the first few hundred metres below the current nucleus surface.
Published: 03 July 2015
Document reference: CDF-152(A)

ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) have completed a study of a Next Generation-Cryogenic cooled InfraRed Telescope (NG-CryoIRTel). The purpose of this study is to support the European and Japanese science community in defining a post-SPICA mission for the Cosmic Vision M5 call. Full details of the study can be found in this report.

Published: 30 December 2014
Exoplanets orbiting close to their parent stars may lose some fraction of their atmospheres because of the extreme irradiation. Atmospheric mass loss primarily affects low-mass exoplanets, leading to the suggestion that hot rocky planets might have begun as Neptune-like, but subsequently lost all of their atmospheres; however, no confident measurements have hitherto been available. The signature of this loss could be observed in the ultraviolet spectrum, when the planet and its escaping atmosphere transit the star, giving rise to deeper and longer transit signatures than in the optical spectrum. Here we report that in the ultraviolet the Neptune-mass exoplanet GJ 436b (also known as Gliese 436b) has transit depths of 56.3 ± 3.5% (1σ), far beyond the 0.69% optical transit depth. The ultraviolet transits repeatedly start about two hours before, and end more than three hours after the approximately one hour optical transit, which is substantially different from one previous claim (based on an inaccurate ephemeris). We infer from this that the planet is surrounded and trailed by a large exospheric cloud composed mainly of hydrogen atoms. We estimate a mass-loss rate in the range of about 108-109 grams per second, which is far too small to deplete the atmosphere of a Neptune-like planet in the lifetime of the parent star, but would have been much greater in the past.
Published: 26 June 2015
Accepted for publication: 11 May 2015

Context. The European Space Agency Rosetta mission reached and started escorting its main target, the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, at the beginning of August 2014. Within the context of solar system small bodies, satellite searches from approaching spacecraft were extensively used in the past to study the nature of the visited bodies and their collisional environment.
Aims. During the approaching phase to the comet in July 2014, the OSIRIS instrument onboard Rosetta performed a campaign aimed at detecting objects in the vicinity of the comet nucleus and at measuring these objects' possible bound orbits. In addition to the scientific purpose, the search also focused on spacecraft security to avoid hazardous material in the comet's environment.
Methods. Images in the red spectral domain were acquired with the OSIRIS Narrow Angle Camera, when the spacecraft was at a distance between 5785 km and 5463 km to the comet, following an observational strategy tailored to maximize the scientific outcome. From the acquired images, sources were extracted and displayed to search for plausible displacements of all sources from image to image. After stars were identified, the remaining sources were thoroughly analyzed. To place constraints on the expected displacements of a potential satellite, we performed Monte Carlo simulations on the apparent motion of potential satellites within the Hill sphere.
Results. We found no unambiguous detections of objects larger than ~6 m within ~20 km and larger than ~1 m between ~20 km and ~110 km from the nucleus, using images with an exposure time of 0.14 s and 1.36 s, respectively. Our conclusions are consistent with independent works on dust grains in the comet coma and on boulders counting on the nucleus surface.
--- Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations ---

Published: 12 May 2015
Accepted for publication: 9 April 2015.

Context. We investigate the dust coma within the Hill sphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Aims. We aim to determine osculating orbital elements for individual distinguishable but unresolved slow-moving grains in the vicinity of the nucleus. In addition, we perform photometry and constrain grain sizes.
Methods. We performed astrometry and photometry using images acquired by the OSIRIS Wide Angle Camera on the European Space Agency spacecraft Rosetta. Based on these measurements, we employed standard orbit determination and orbit improvement techniques.
Results. Orbital elements and effective diameters of four grains were constrained, but we were unable to uniquely determine them. Two of the grains have light curves that indicate grain rotation.
Conclusions. The four grains have diameters nominally in the range 0.14–0.50 m. For three of the grains, we found elliptic orbits, which is consistent with a cloud of bound particles around the nucleus. However, hyperbolic escape trajectories cannot be excluded for any of the grains, and for one grain this is the only known option. One grain may have originated from the surface shortly before observation. These results have possible implications for the understanding of the dispersal of the cloud of bound debris around comet nuclei, as well as for understanding the ejection of large grains far from the Sun.

Published: 10 April 2015
Accepted for publication: 2 May 2015.

The Microwave Instrument on the Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO) has been observing the coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko almost continuously since June 2014 at wavelengths near 0.53 mm. We present here a map of the water column density in the inner coma (within 3 km from nucleus center) when the comet was at 3.4 AU from the Sun. Based on the analysis of the H216O and H218O (110-101) lines, we find that the column density can vary by two orders of magnitude in this region. The highest column density is observed in a narrow region on the dayside, close to the neck and north pole rotation axis of the nucleus, while the lowest column density is seen against the nightside of the nucleus where outgassing seems to be very low. We estimate that the outgassing pattern can be represented by a Gaussian distribution in a solid angle with FWHM ≈ 80°

Published: 03 May 2015
Venus is known to have been volcanically resurfaced in the last third of solar system history and to have undergone a significant decrease in volcanic activity a few hundred million years ago. However, fundamental questions remain: Is Venus still volcanically active today, and if so, where and in what geological and geodynamic environment? Here we show evidence from the Venus Express Venus Monitoring Camera for transient bright spots that are consistent with the extrusion of lava flows that locally cause significantly elevated surface temperatures. The very strong spatial correlation of the transient bright spots with the extremely young Ganiki Chasma, their similarity to locations of rift-associated volcanism on Earth, provide strong evidence for their volcanic origin and suggests that Venus is currently geodynamically active.
Published: 19 June 2015
First published online 4 June 2015.

Titan's polar surface is dotted with hundreds of lacustrine depressions. Based on the hypothesis that they are karstic in origin, we aim at determining the efficiency of surface dissolution as a landshaping process on Titan, in a comparative planetology perspective with the Earth as reference. Our approach is based on the calculation of solutional denudation rates and allow inference of formation timescales for topographic depressions developed by chemical erosion on both planetary bodies. The model depends on the solubility of solids in liquids, the density of solids and liquids, and the average annual net rainfall rates. We compute and compare the denudation rates of pure solid organics in liquid hydrocarbons and of minerals in liquid water over Titan and Earth timescales. We then investigate the denudation rates of a superficial organic layer in liquid methane over one Titan year. At this timescale, such a layer on Titan would behave like salts or carbonates on Earth depending on its composition, which means that dissolution processes would likely occur but would be 30 times slower on Titan compared to the Earth due to the seasonality of precipitation. Assuming an average depth of 100 m for Titan's lacustrine depressions, these could have developed in a few tens of millions of years at polar latitudes higher than 70°N and S, and a few hundreds of million years at lower polar latitudes. The ages determined are consistent with the youth of the surface (<1 Gyr) and the repartition of dissolution-related landforms on Titan.

Published: 05 June 2015
Four small moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra—follow near-circular, near-equatorial orbits around the central 'binary planet' comprising Pluto and its large moon, Charon. New observational details of the system have emerged following the discoveries of Kerberos and Styx. Here we report that Styx, Nix and Hydra are tied together by a three-body resonance, which is reminiscent of the Laplace resonance linking Jupiter's moons Io, Europa and Ganymede. Perturbations by the other bodies, however, inject chaos into this otherwise stable configuration. Nix and Hydra have bright surfaces similar to that of Charon. Kerberos may be much darker, raising questions about how a heterogeneous satellite system might have formed. Nix and Hydra rotate chaotically, driven by the large torques of the Pluto–Charon binary.
Published: 05 June 2015

Aims. The Alice far-ultraviolet spectrograph onboard Rosetta is designed to observe emissions from various atomic and molecular species from within the coma of comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko and to determine their spatial distribution and evolution with time and heliocentric distance.

Methods. Following orbit insertion in August 2014, Alice made observations of the inner coma above the limbs of the nucleus of the comet from cometocentric distances varying between 10 and 80 km. Depending on the position and orientation of the slit relative to the nucleus, emissions of atomic hydrogen and oxygen were initially detected. These emissions are spatially localized close to the nucleus and spatially variable with a strong enhancement above the comet's neck at northern latitudes. Weaker emission from atomic carbon and CO were subsequently detected.

Results. Analysis of the relative line intensities suggests photoelectron impact dissociation of H2O vapor as the source of the observed HI and OI emissions. The electrons are produced by photoionization of H2O. The observed CI emissions are also attributed to electron impact dissociation, of CO2, and their relative brightness to HI reflects the variation of CO2 to H2O column abundance in the coma.

Published: 03 June 2015
23-Sep-2019 09:58 UT

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