Constraints on the subsurface structure and density of the nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Arecibo radar observations
Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis & Thales Alenia
2 Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille, UMR 7326, CNRS & Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, France
3 Konkoly Observatory, MTA CSFK CSI, 1121 Budapest, Hungary
4 UJF-Grenoble 1 & CNRS-INSU, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble, UMR 5274, 38041 Grenoble, France
Received: 30 January 2014
Accepted: 8 June 2014
Context. Little is known about the internal structure of cometary nuclei. In addition to understanding their accretion in the early solar nebula and their subsequent evolution in the solar system, we find this question to be of acute and timely interest in the case of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (hereafter 67P/C-G) due to be visited by the Rosetta spacecraft in the second half of 2014. In particular, the successful landing of the Philae surface module depends critically upon the bulk density of the nucleus and the structure of its surface layer.
Aims. In addition to fostering our general knowledge of these properties, it is important to exploit all possible information to assist in preparing the delivery of Philae.
Methods. We performed an in-depth analysis of the observations done with the radar system of the Arecibo Observatory in November 1982 when comet 67P/C-G had a close encounter with Earth at a geocentric distance of 0.4AU taking our present knowledge of the properties of its nucleus (size, rotational state) into account.
Results. In the absence of a detectable radar echo, we determined a maximum radar cross section of 0.7 km2, leading to a maximum radar albedo of 0.05. This low albedo probably results from a combination of a low radar reflectivity material and a lightly packed upper layer of the nucleus with substantial roughness (rms slope of ≈55°), consistent with its low thermal inertia. Based on radar observations of other cometary nuclei and asteroids, it is unlikely that the albedo can be lower than 0.04 so that we were able to constrain the dielectric permittivity of the subsurface layer to a narrow range of 1.9 to 2.1. Laboratory measurements and our modeling of mixtures of ice and dust have led to a porosity in the range of approximately 55 to 65% and a density in the range of ≈600 to ≈1000 kg m-3 for the top ≈2.5 m layer of the nucleus. This would be the bulk density range for a homogeneous nucleus and would place the success of the landing at risk, but an inhomogeneous nucleus with an overall density below this range remains a possibility.
Key words: comets: general / comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / techniques: radar astronomy
© ESO, 2014