On deviations from free-radial outflow in the inner coma of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

S. B. Gerig, R. Marschall, N. Thomas, I. Bertini, D. Bodewits, B. Davidsson, M. Fulle, W. H. Ip, H. U. Keller, M. Küppers, F. Preusker, F. Scholten, C. C. Su, I. Toth, C. Tubiana, J. S. Wu, H. Sierks, C. Barbieri, P. L. Lamy, R. RodrigoD. Koschny, H. Rickman, J. Agarwal, M. A. Barucci, J. L. Bertaux, G. Cremonese, V. Da Deppo, S. Debei, M. De Cecco, J. Deller, S. Fornasier, O. Groussin, P. J. Gutierrez, C. Güttler, S. F. Hviid, L. Jorda, J. Knollenberg, J. R. Kramm, E. Kührt, L. M. Lara, M. Lazzarin, J. J. Lopez Moreno, F. Marzari, S. Mottola, G. Naletto, N. Oklay, J. B. Vincent

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24 Scopus citations


The Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS) onboard the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft acquired images of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P) and its surrounding dust coma starting from May 2014 until September 2016. In this paper we present methods and results from analysis of OSIRIS images regarding the dust outflow in the innermost coma of 67P. The aim is to determine the global dust outflow behaviour and place constraints on physical processes affecting particles in the inner coma. We study the coma region right above the nucleus surface, spanning from the nucleus centre out to a distance of about 50 km comet centric distance (approximately 25 average comet radii). We primarily adopt an approach used by Thomas and Keller (1990) to study the dust outflow. We present the effects on azimuthally-averaged values of the dust reflectance of non-radial flow and non-point-source geometry, acceleration of dust particles, sublimation of icy dust particles after ejection from the surface, dust particle fragmentation, optical depth effects and the influence of gravitationally bound particles. All of these physical processes could modify the observed distribution of light scattered by the dust coma. In the image analysis, profiles of azimuthally averaged dust brightness as a function of impact parameter b (azimuthal average, “Ā-curve”) were fitted with a simple function that best fits the shape of our profile curves (f(b;u,v,w,z)=u/bv+wb+z). The analytical fit parameters (u, v, w, z), which hold the key information about the dust outflow behaviour, were saved in a comprehensive database. Through statistical analysis of these information, we show that the spatial distribution of dust follows free-radial outflow behaviour (i.e. force-free radial outflow with constant velocity) beyond distances larger than ∼11.9 km from the comet centre, which corresponds to a relative distance of about 6 average comet radii from the comet centre. Hence, we conclude that beyond this distance, and on average, fragmentation and gravitationally bound particles are negligible processes in determining the optically scattered light distribution in the innermost coma. Closer to the nucleus we observe dust outflow behaviour that deviates from free-radial outflow. A comparison of our result profiles with numerical models using a Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) approach with dust particle distributions calculated using a test particle approach has been used to demonstrate the influence of a complex shape and particle acceleration on the azimuthal average profiles. We demonstrate that, while other effects such as fragmentation or sublimation of dust particles cannot be ruled out, acceleration of the dust particles and effects arising from the shape of the irregular nucleus (non-point source geometry) are sufficient to explain the observed dust outflow behaviour from image data analysis. As a by-product of this work, we have calculated “Afρ” values for the 1/r regime. We found a peak in the coma activity in terms of Afρ (normalised to a phase angle of 90°) of ∼210 cm 20 days after perihelion. Furthermore, based on simplified models of particle motion within bound orbits, it is shown that limits on the total cross-sectional area of bound particles might be derived through further analysis. An example is given.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018


  • 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
  • Dust
  • Inner coma
  • Rosetta


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