Solar-insolation-induced changes in the coma morphology of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Optical monitoring with the Nordic Optical Telescope

Zaprudin, B.; Lehto, H.J.; Nilsson, K.; Somero, A.; Pursimo, T.; Snodgrass, C. and Schulz, R. (2017). Solar-insolation-induced changes in the coma morphology of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Optical monitoring with the Nordic Optical Telescope. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 604, article no. A3.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201730475

Abstract

Context. 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) is a short-period Jupiter family comet with an orbital period of 6.55 years. Being the target comet of ESA’s Rosetta mission, 67P/C-G has become one of the most intensively studied minor bodies of the Solar System. The Rosetta Orbiter and the Philae Lander have brought us unique information about the structure and activity of the comet nucleus, as well as its activity along the orbit, composition of gas, and dust particles emitted into the coma. However, as Rosetta stayed in very close proximity to the cometary nucleus (less than 500 km with a few short excursions reaching up to 1500 km), it could not see the global picture of a coma at the scales reachable by telescopic observations (103 - 105 km).

Aims. In this work we aim to connect in-situ observations made by Rosetta with the morphological evolution of the coma structures monitored by the ground-based observations. In particular, we concentrate on causal relationships between the coma morphology and evolution observed with the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) in the Canary Islands, and the seasonal changes of the insolation and the activity of the comet observed by the Rosetta instruments.

Methods. Comet 67P/C-G was monitored with the NOT in imaging mode in two colors. Imaging optical observations were performed roughly on a weekly basis, which provides good coverage of short- and long-term variability. With the three dimensional modeling of the coma produced by active regions on the Southern Hemisphere, we aim to qualify the observed morphology by connecting it to the activity observed by Rosetta.

Results. During our monitoring program, we detected major changes in the coma morphology of comet 67P/C-G. These were longterm and long-lasting changes. They do not represent any sudden outburst or short transient event, but are connected to seasonal changes of the surface insolation and the emergence of new active regions on the irregular shaped comet nucleus. We have also found significant deviations in morphological changes from the prediction models based on previous apparitions of 67P/C-G, like the time delay of the morphology changes and the reduced activity in the Northern Hemisphere. According to our modeling of coma structures and geometry of observations, the changes are clearly connected with the activity in the Southern Hemisphere observed by the Rosetta spacecraft.

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