The Thermal, Mechanical, Structural, and Dielectric Properties of Cometary Nuclei After Rosetta

Groussin, O.; Attree, N.; Brouet, Y.; Ciarletti, V.; Davidsson, B.; Filacchione, G.; Fischer, H.-H.; Gundlach, B.; Knapmeyer, M.; Knollenberg, J.; Kokotanekova, R.; Kührt, E.; Leyrat, C.; Marshall, D.; Pelivan, I.; Skorov, Y.; Snodgrass, C.; Spohn, T. and Tosi, F. (2019). The Thermal, Mechanical, Structural, and Dielectric Properties of Cometary Nuclei After Rosetta. Space Science Reviews, 215(4), article no. 29.



The physical properties of cometary nuclei observed today relate to their complex history and help to constrain their formation and evolution. In this article, we review some of the main physical properties of cometary nuclei and focus in particular on the thermal, mechanical, structural and dielectric properties, emphasising the progress made during the Rosetta mission. Comets have a low density of 480±220 kgm−3 and a low permittivity of 1.9–2.0, consistent with a high porosity of 70–80%, are weak with a very low global tensile strength <100 Pa, and have a low bulk thermal inertia of 0--60 JK−1m−2s−1/2 that allowed them to preserve highly volatiles species (e.g. CO, CO2, CH4, N2) into their interior since their formation. As revealed by 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the above physical properties vary across the nucleus, spatially at its surface but also with depth. The broad picture is that the bulk of the nucleus consists of a weakly bonded, rather homogeneous material that preserved primordial properties under a thin shell of processed material, and possibly covered by a granular material; this cover might in places reach a thickness of several meters. The properties of the top layer (the first meter) are not representative of that of the bulk nucleus. More globally, strong nucleus heterogeneities at a scale of a few meters are ruled out on 67P’s small lobe.

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