67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (abbreviated as 67P or 67P/C-G) is a Jupiter-family comet, originally from the Kuiper belt, with a current orbital period of 6.45 years, a rotation period of approximately 12.4 hours and a maximum velocity of 135,000 km/h (38 km/s; 84,000 mph). Churyumov–Gerasimenko is approximately 4.3 by 4.1 km (2.7 by 2.5 mi) at its longest and widest dimensions. It was first observed on photographic plates in 1969 by Soviet astronomers Klim Ivanovych Churyumov and Svetlana Ivanovna Gerasimenko, after whom it is named. It came to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on 13 August 2015.
Churyumov–Gerasimenko was the destination of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission, launched on 2 March 2004. Rosetta rendezvoused with Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014 and entered orbit on 10 September 2014. Rosetta's lander, Philae, landed on the comet's surface on 12 November 2014, becoming the first spacecraft to land on a comet nucleus. On 30 September 2016, the Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission by landing on the comet in its Ma'at region.
The comet consists of two lobes connected by a narrower neck, with the larger lobe measuring about 4.1×3.3×1.8 km (2.5×2.1×1.1 mi) and the smaller one about 2.6×2.3×1.8 km (1.6×1.4×1.1 mi). With each orbit the comet loses matter, as gas and dust are evaporated away by the sun. It is estimated that currently a layer with an average thickness of about 1 ± 0.5 m (3.3 ± 1.6 ft) is lost per orbit.
The two-lobe shape of the comet is the result of a gentle, low-velocity collision of two objects. The "terraces", layers of the interior of the comet that have been exposed by partial stripping of outer layers during its existence, are oriented in different directions in the two lobes, indicating that two objects fused to form Churyumov–Gerasimenko.
There are 19 distinct regions on Churyumov–Gerasimenko, with each named after an Egyptian deity; regions on the large lobe are named after gods, whereas those on the small lobe are named after goddesses.
||Pitted and brittle material
Features known as Gates, twin prominences on the surface so named for their appearance, have received names by the Rosetta Science Working Team. They are named after deceased members of the Rosetta team.
Orbit and rotation
Like the other comets of the Jupiter family, Churyumov–Gerasimenko probably originated in the Kuiper belt and was ejected towards the interior of the Solar System, where later encounters with Jupiter successively changed its orbit.
Up to 1840, the comet's perihelion distance was 4 AU (600 million km), too far for the Sun to vaporize the nucleus. In 1840 Jupiter changed the orbit to a perihelion distance of 3 AU (450 million km), and later encounters further decreased that distance to 2.77 AU (414 million km).
In February 1959, a close encounter with Jupiter moved Churyumov–Gerasimenko's perihelion inward to about 1.29 AU (193 million km), where it remains today.
Before Churyumov–Gerasimenko's perihelion passage in 2009, its rotational period was 12.76 hours. During this perihelion passage, it decreased to 12.4 hours, which likely happened because of sublimation-induced torque.
As of September 2014, Churyumov–Gerasimenko's nucleus had an apparent magnitude of roughly 20. It came to perihelion on 13 August 2015. From December 2014 until September 2015, it had an elongation less than 45 degrees from the Sun. On 10 February 2015, it went through solar conjunction when it was 5 degrees from the Sun and was 3.3 AU (490 million km) from Earth. It crossed the celestial equator on 5 May 2015 and became easiest to see from the Northern Hemisphere. Even right after perihelion when it was in the constellation of Gemini, it only brightened to about apparent magnitude 12, and required a telescope to be seen. As of December 2015, the comet had a total magnitude of about 17.
This animation consists of 86 images acquired by Rosetta's NavCam as it approached 67P in August 2014.
Churyumov–Gerasimenko was the destination of the Rosetta mission, launched in 2004, which rendezvoused with it in 2014 and was the first mission to land a space probe on a comet.
As preparation for the Rosetta mission, Hubble Space Telescope pictures taken on 12 March 2003 were closely analysed. An overall 3D model was constructed and computer-generated images were created.
On 25 April 2012, the most detailed observations until that time were taken with the 2-metre Faulkes Telescope by N. Howes, G. Sostero and E. Guido while it was at its aphelion.
On 6 June 2014, water vapor was detected being released at a rate of roughly 1 L/s (0.26 USgal/s) when Rosetta was 360,000 km (220,000 mi) from Churyumov–Gerasimenko and 3.9 AU (580 million km) from the Sun. On 14 July 2014, images taken by Rosetta showed that its nucleus is irregular in shape with two distinct lobes. One explanation is that it is a contact binary formed by low-speed accretion between two comets, but it may instead have resulted from asymmetric erosion due to ice sublimating from its surface to leave behind its lobed shape. The size of the nucleus is estimated to be 3.5×4 km (2.2×2.5 mi).
Rendezvous and orbit
Beginning in May 2014, Rosetta's velocity was reduced by 780 m/s (2,800 km/h; 1,700 mph) with a series of thruster firings. Ground controllers rendezvoused Rosetta with Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014. This was done by reducing Rosetta's relative velocity to 1 m/s (4 km/h; 2 mph). Rosetta entered orbit on 10 September, at about 30 km (19 mi) from the nucleus.
Descent of a small lander occurred on 12 November 2014. Philae is a 100 kg (220 lb) robotic probe that set down on the surface with landing gear. The landing site has been christened Agilkia in honour of Agilkia Island, where the temples of Philae Island were relocated after the construction of the Aswan Dam flooded the island. The acceleration due to gravity on the surface of Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been estimated for simulation purposes at 10−3 m/s2, or about one ten-thousandth of that on Earth.
Because of its low relative mass, landing on the comet involved certain technical considerations to keep Philae anchored. The probe contains an array of mechanisms designed to manage Churyumov–Gerasimenko's low gravity, including a cold gas thruster, harpoons, landing-leg-mounted ice screws, and a flywheel to keep it oriented during its descent. During the event, the thruster and the harpoons failed to operate, and the ice screws did not gain a grip. The lander bounced twice and only came to rest when it made contact with the surface for the third time, two hours after first contact.
Contact with Philae was lost on 15 November 2014 because of dropping battery power. The European Space Operations Centre briefly reestablished communications on 14 June 2015 and reported a healthy spacecraft but communications were lost again soon after. On 2 September 2016, Philae was located in photographs taken by the Rosetta orbiter. It had come to rest in a crack with only its body and two legs visible. While the discovery solves the question of the lander's disposition, it also allows project scientists to properly contextualise the data it returned from the comet's surface.
The composition of water vapor from Churyumov–Gerasimenko, as determined by the Rosetta spacecraft, is substantially different from that found on Earth. The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in the water from the comet was determined to be three times that found for terrestrial water. This makes it unlikely that water found on Earth came from comets such as Churyumov–Gerasimenko. On 22 January 2015, NASA reported that, between June and August 2014, the comet released increasing amounts of water vapor, up to tenfold as much. On 23 January 2015, the journal Science published a special issue of scientific studies related to the comet.
Measurements carried out before Philae's batteries failed indicate that the dust layer could be as much as 20 cm (7.9 in) thick. Beneath that is hard ice, or a mixture of ice and dust. Porosity appears to increase toward the center of the comet.
The nucleus of Churyumov–Gerasimenko was found to have no magnetic field of its own after measurements were taken during Philae's descent and landing by its ROMAP instrument and Rosetta's RPC-MAG instrument. This suggests that magnetism may not have played a role in the early formation of the Solar System, as had previously been hypothesized.
The ALICE spectrograph on Rosetta determined that electrons (within 1 km (0.6 mi) above the comet nucleus) produced from photoionization of water molecules by solar radiation, and not photons from the Sun as thought earlier, are responsible for the degradation of water and carbon dioxide molecules released from the comet nucleus into its coma. Also, active pits, related to sinkhole collapses and possibly associated with outbursts are present on the comet.
Measurements by the COSAC and Ptolemy instruments on the Philae's lander revealed sixteen organic compounds, four of which were seen for the first time on a comet, including acetamide, acetone, methyl isocyanate and propionaldehyde. Astrobiologists Chandra Wickramasinghe and Max Wallis stated that some of the physical features detected on the comet's surface by Rosetta and Philae, such as its organic-rich crust, could be explained by the presence of extraterrestrial microorganisms. Rosetta program scientists dismissed the claim as "pure speculation". Carbon-rich compounds are common in the Solar System. Neither Rosetta nor Philae is equipped to search for direct evidence of organisms. The only amino acid detected thus far on the comet is glycine, along with precursor molecules methylamine and ethylamine.
Solid organic compounds were also found in the dust particles emitted by the comet; the carbon in this organic material is bound in "very large macromolecular compounds", analogous to the insoluble organic matter in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. Scientists think that the observed cometary carbonaceous solid matter could have the same origin as the meteoritic insoluble organic matter, but suffered less modification before or after being incorporated into the comet.
One of the most outstanding discoveries of the mission so far is the detection of large amounts of free molecular oxygen (O
2) gas surrounding the comet. Current solar system models suggest the molecular oxygen should have disappeared by the time 67P was created, about 4.6 billion years ago in a violent and hot process that would have caused the oxygen to react with hydrogen and form water. Molecular oxygen has never before been detected in cometary comas. In situ measurements indicate that the O
2O ratio is isotropic in the coma and does not change systematically with heliocentric distance, suggesting that primordial O
2 was incorporated into the nucleus during the comet's formation. Detection of molecular nitrogen (N
2) in the comet suggests that its cometary grains formed in low-temperature conditions below 30 K (−243.2 °C; −405.7 °F).