Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: Modeling of orientation and structure

Kossacki KJ, Szutowicz S

Planetary and Space Science

54(1), 2006, 15-27, 10.1016/j.pss.2005.09.001

The comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko is the current target of the mission Rosetta, initially planned to investigate comet 46P/Wirtanen. These two comets have similar orbits, except the distance to the Sun at perihelion, but different orbital histories and different masses. Thus, structures of the nuclei can be significantly different. The evolution of comet Wirtanen was simulated by several authors, while comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko became an object of high interest only recently and is not well investigated. In the present work we simulate the evolution of the nucleus, down to tens of meters below the surface, using an extended version of the model previously applied for comet Wirtanen [Kossacki et al., 1999. Comet 46P/Wirtanen: evolution of the subsurface layer. Icarus 142, 202–218.]. The model includes strengthening of the nucleus due to sintering of the ice grains. Simulations are performed for different latitudes, accounting for the evolution of the orbit and for changes of the nucleus orientation, as well as diurnal and seasonal changes of insolation. The calculated loss of water vapor from the comet is integrated over the nucleus surface and is compared with the observational data. We have found, that the sublimation through the dust mantle can be large enough to reproduce the profile of the total water production as a function of time from perihelion. The required dependence of thickness of the dust layer on latitude qualitatively matches present distribution of the absorbed solar flux. The non-gravitational acceleration in the comet motion together with the simulated sublimation flux are used in order to estimate the mass and the bulk density of the nucleus.