Beginning of activity in 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and predictions for 2014–2015

Snodgrass, C.; Tubiana, C.; Bramich, D. M.; Meech, K.; Boehnhardt, H. and Barrera, L. (2013). Beginning of activity in 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and predictions for 2014–2015. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 557, article no. A33.



Context. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was selected in 2003 as the new target of the Rosetta mission. It has since been the subject of a detailed campaign of observations to characterise its nucleus and activity.

Aims. We present previously unpublished data taken around the start of activity of the comet in 2007/8, before its last perihelion passage. We constrain the time of the start of activity, and combine this with other data taken throughout the comet’s orbit to make predictions for its likely behaviour during 2014/5 while Rosetta is operating.

Methods. A considerable difficulty in observing 67P during the past years has been its position against crowded fields towards the Galactic centre for much of the time. The 2007/8 data presented here were particularly difficult, and the comet will once again be badly placed for Earth-based observations in 2014/5. We make use of the difference image analysis technique, which is commonly used in variable star and exoplanet research, to remove background sources and extract images of the comet. In addition, we reprocess a large quantity of archival images of 67P covering its full orbit, to produce a heliocentric lightcurve. By using consistent reduction, measurement and calibration techniques we generate a remarkably clean lightcurve, which can be used to measure a brightness-distance relationship and to predict the future brightness of the comet.

Results. We determine that the comet was active around November 2007, at a pre-perihelion distance from the Sun of 4.3 AU. The comet will reach this distance, and probably become active again, in March 2014. We find that the dust brightness can be well described by Ar-3.2 pre-perihelion and ∝ r-3.4 post-perihelion, and that the comet has a higher dust-to-gas ratio than average, with log (A/Q(H2O)) = − 24.94 ± 0.22 cm s molecule-1 at r < 2 AU. A model fit to the photometric data suggests that only a small fraction (1.4%) of the surface is active.

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