First observations of H2O and CO2 vapor in comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko made by VIRTIS onboard Rosetta

D. Bockelee-Morvan, V. Debout, S. Erard, C. Leyrat, F. Capaccioni, G. Filacchione, N. Fougere, P. Drossart, G. Arnold, M. Combi, B. Schmitt, J. Crovisier, M. C. De Sanctis, T. Encrenaz, E. Kuhrt, E. Palomba, F. W. Taylor, F. Tosi, G. Piccioni, U. FinkG. Tozzi, A. Barucci, N. Biver, M. T. Capria, M. Combes, W. Ip, M. Blecka, F. Henry, S. Jacquinod, J. M. Reess, A. Semery, D. Tiphene

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78 Scopus citations


Context. Outgassing from cometary nuclei involves complex surface and subsurface processes that need to be understood to investigate the composition of cometary ices from coma observations. Aims. We investigate the production of water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide from the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P). These species have different volatility and are key species of cometary ices. Methods. Using the high spectral-resolution channel of the Visible InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS-H), we observed the ν3 vibrational bands of H2O and CO2 at 2.67 and 4.27 μm, respectively, from 24 November 2014 to 24 January 2015, when comet 67P was between 2.91 and 2.47 AU from the Sun. Observations were undertaken in limb-viewing geometry at distances from the surface of 0 to 1.5 km and with various line-of-sight (LOS) orientations in the body-fixed frame. A geometry tool was used to characterize the position of the LOS with respect to geomorphologic regions and the illumination properties of these regions. Results. The water production of 67P did not increase much from 2.9 to 2.5 AU. High water column densities are observed for LOS above the neck regions, suggesting they are the most productive in water vapor. While water production is weak in regions with low solar illumination, CO2 is outgassing from both illuminated and non-illuminated regions, which indicates that CO2 sublimates at a depth that is below the diurnal skin depth. The CO2/H2O column density ratio varies from 2 to 60%. For regions that are in sunlight, mean values between 2 and 7% are measured. The lower bound value is likely representative of the CO2/H2O production rate ratio from the neck regions. For carbon monoxide, we derive column density ratios CO/H2O < 1.9% and CO/CO2< 80%. An illumination-driven model, with a uniformly active surface releasing water at a mean rate of 8 × 1025 s-1, provides an overall agreement to VIRTIS-H data, although some mismatches show local surface inhomogeneities in water production. Rotational temperatures of 90-100 K are derived from H2O and CO2 averaged spectra.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA6
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • Comets: general
  • Comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Infrared: planetary systems


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