Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ESA Rosetta: Fissure spanning 100 metres discovered on Comet 67/P

A fissure spanning over 100 meters across the neck of Rosetta’s comet 67P raises the question of if, or when, the comet will break up. 

The fissure is part of released studies by Rosetta scientists in the journal Science. 

Credit: ESA/Rosetta, Illustration, T.Reyes

Not all comets break up as they vent and age, but for ESA Rosetta's comet 67P, the Rubber Duckie comet, a crack in the neck raises concerns.

Some comets may just fizzle and uniformly expel their volatiles throughout their surfaces. They may become like puffballs, shrink some but remain intact.

Comet 67P is the other extreme. The expulsion of volatile material has led to a shape and a point of no return; it is destined to break in two.

The fissure is part of the analysis in a new set of science papers published this week.

The images show a fissure spanning a few hundred meters across the neck of the two lobe comet.

The fissure is just one of the many incredible features on Comet 67P and is reported in research articles released in the January 22, 2015, edition of the journal Science.

Left: A map looking at the northern (right-hand rule, positive,) pole of 67P showing the total energy received from the Sun per rotation on 6 August 2014. 

The base of the neck (Hapi) receives ~15% less energy than the most illuminated region, 3.5 × 106 J m-2 (per rotation). 

If self-heating were not included, the base of the neck would receive ~30% less total energy. 

Right: Similar to the left panel but showing total energy received over an entire orbital period in J m-2 (per orbit). 


What it means is not certain, but Rosetta team scientists have stated that flexing of the comet might be causing the fissure.

As the comet approaches the Sun, the solar radiation is raising the temperature of the surface material.

Like all materials, the comet's will expand and contract with temperature. And diurnal (daily) changes in the tidal forces from the Sun is a factor, too.'

The crack, or fissure, could spell the beginning of the end for comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It is located in the neck area, in the region named Hapi, between the two lobes that make 67P appear so much like a Rubber Duck from a distance.

The fissure could represent a focal point of many properties and forces at work, such as the rotation rate and axis – basically head over heels of the comet.

The fissure lies in the most active area at present, and possibly the most active area overall.

Though the Hapi region appears to receive nearly constant sunlight, at this time, Rosetta measurements (below) show otherwise – receiving 15% less sunlight than elsewhere.

Top left: The Hathor cliff face is to the right in this view. The aligned linear structures can be clearly seen. 

The smooth Hapi region is seen at the base of the Hathor cliff. Boulders are prevalent along the long axis of the Hapi region. 

Bottom left and right: Crack in the Hapi region. 

The left panel shows the crack (indicated by red arrows) extending across Hapi and beyond. 

The right panel shows the crack where it has left Hapi and is extending into Anuket, with Seth at the uppermost left and Hapi in the lower left. 

Credit: ESA/Rosetta

Sunlight and heating are major factors and the neck likely experiences the greatest mechanical stresses, internal torques, from heating or tidal forces from the sun as it rotates and approaches perihelion.

Rosetta scientists are still not certain whether 67P is two bodies in contact, a contact binary, or a shape that formed from material expelled about the neck area leading to its narrowing.

The Philae lander's MUPUS thermal sensor measured a temperature of –153°C (–243°F) at the landing site, while VIRTIS, an instrument on the primary spacecraft Rosetta, has measured -70°C (-94°F) at present.

These temperatures will rise as perihelion is reached on August 13, 2015, at a distance of 1.2432 A.U. (24% further from the Sun than Earth). At present – January 23rd – 67P is 2.486 A.U. from the Sun (2 1/2 times farther from the Sun than Earth).

While not a close approach to the Sun for a comet, the Solar radiation intensity will increase by 4 times between the present (January 2014) and perihelion in August.

Stresses due to temperature changes from diurnal variations, the changing Sun angle during perihelion approach, from loss of material, and finally from changes in the tidal forces on a daily basis (12.4043 hours) may lead to changes in the fissure causing it to possibly widen or increase in length.

Rosetta will continue escorting the comet and delivering images of the whole surface that will give Rosetta scientists the observations and measurements to determine 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko's condition now and its fate in the longer term.

Read the full article here

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