The changing rotation period of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko controlled by its activity
1 Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), Institut für Planetenforschung, Rutherfordstraße 2, 12489 Berlin, Germany
2 Institut für Geophysik und extraterrestrische Physik, TU Braunschweig, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
3 Max-Planck-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Justus-von-Liebig-Weg, 3, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
4 Aix Marseille Université, CNRS, LAM (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille) UMR 7326, 13388 Marseille, France
Received: 27 April 2015
Accepted: 4 June 2015
Context. The ESA Rosetta spacecraft has been orbiting the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko since August 2014. The rotation axis of the irregularly shaped nucleus has a large obliquity (52°) and is oriented such that the southern hemisphere is insolated during perihelion.
Aims. We calculate the change in the rotation period as a function of the cometary orbital position due to forces exerted by cometary activity.
Methods. We used a detailed shape model of 67P with >105 facets. We calculated the efficiency of the facets to exert a torque based on their radial distance from the center of mass and their orientation. We applied our thermal model to calculate the diurnal water-ice sublimation rate from each facet. The reaction force per facet combined with its torque efficiency creates a torque and changes the angular momentum. The component of the torque parallel to the spin axis changes the rotation period.
Results. Our model shows that the rotation period increases slightly during the approach of the comet to the Sun. It reaches a maximum shortly before equinox and drops rapidly during perihelion passage. The magnitude of the change depends on the actual sublimation rates. The change in sign mainly depends on the shape of the nucleus and not much on the sublimation variation. The roughness of the nucleus has little influence.
Conclusions. For the given geometry of the rotation axis, the change in the rotation period is mainly influenced by the sublimation activity of the irregular shape of the nucleus. The rotation period increases until shortly before equinox in early May 2015, in good agreement with observations, and will then become shorter rapidly.
Key words: comets: general / comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / space vehicles / methods: numerical
© ESO, 2015