Return to Comet Tempel 1: Overview of Stardust-NExT results

Veverka, J.; Klaasen, K.; A’Hearn, M.; Belton, M.; Brownlee, D.; Chesley, S.; Clark, B.; Economou, T.; Farquhar, R.; Green, S. F.; Groussin, O.; Harris, A.; Kissel, J.; Li, J.-Y.; Meech, K.; Melosh, J.; Richardson, J.; Schultz, P.; Silen, J.; Sunshine, J.; Thomas, P.; Bhaskaran, S.; Bodewits, D.; Carcich, B.; Cheuvront, A.; Farnham, T.; Sackett, S.; Wellnitz, D. and Wolf, A. (2013). Return to Comet Tempel 1: Overview of Stardust-NExT results. Icarus, 222(2) pp. 424–435.



On February 14, 2011 Stardust-NExT (SN) flew by Comet Tempel 1, the target of the Deep Impact (DI) mission in 2005, obtaining dust measurements and high-resolution images of areas surrounding the 2005 impact site, and extending image coverage to almost two thirds of the nucleus surface. The nucleus has an average radius of 2.83 ± 0.1 km and a uniform geometric albedo of about 6% at visible wavelengths. Local elevation differences on the nucleus reach up to 830 m. At the time of encounter the spin rate was 213° per day (period = 40.6 h) and the comet was producing some 130 kg of dust per second. Some 30% of the nucleus is covered by smooth flow-like deposits and related materials, restricted to gravitational lows. This distribution is consistent with the view that the smooth areas represent material erupted from the subsurface and date from a time after the nucleus achieved its current shape. It is possible that some of these eruptions occurred after 1609 when the comet’s perihelion distance decreased from 3.5 AU to the current 1.5 AU. Much of the surface displays evidence of layering: some related to the smooth flows and some possibly dating back to the accretion of the nucleus. Pitted terrain covers approximately half the nucleus surface. The pits range up to 850 m in diameter. Due to their large number, they are unlikely to be impact scars: rather they probably result from volatile outbursts and sublimational erosion. The DI impact site shows a subdued depression some 50 m in diameter implying surface properties similar to those of dry, loose snow. It is possible that the 50-m depression is all that remains of an initially larger crater. In the region of overlapping DI and SN coverage most of the surface remained unchanged between 2005 and 2011 in albedo, photometric properties and morphology. Significant changes took place only along the edges of a prominent smooth flow estimated to be 10–15 m thick, the margins of which receded in places by up to 50 m. Coma and jet activity were lower in 2011 than in 2005. Most of the jets observed during the SN flyby can be traced back to an apparently eroding terraced scarp. The dust instruments detected bursts of impacts consistent with a process by which larger aggregates of material emitted from the nucleus subsequently fragment into smaller particles within the coma.

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