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Macro and micro structures of pebble-made cometary nuclei reconciled by seasonal evolution

Abstract : Comets evolve due to sublimation of ices embedded inside porous dust, triggering dust emission (that is, erosion) followed by mass loss, mass redistribution and surface modifications. Surface changes were revealed by the Deep Impact and Stardust NExT missions for comet 9P/Tempel 1 (ref. 1), and a full inventory of the processes modifying cometary nuclei was provided by Rosetta while it escorted comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for approximately two years2-4. Such observations also showed puzzling water-ice-rich spots that stood out as patches optically brighter and spectrally bluer than the average cometary surface5-9. These are up to tens of metres large and indicate macroscopic compositional dishomogeneities apparently in contrast with the structural homogeneity above centimetre scales of pebble-made nuclei10. Here we show that the occurrence of blue patches determines the seasonal variability of the nucleus colour4,11,12 and gives insight into the internal structure of comets. We define a new model that links the centimetre-sized pebbles composing the nucleus10 and driving cometary activity13,14 to metre-sized water-ice-enriched blocks embedded in a drier matrix. The emergence of blue patches is due to the matrix erosion driven by CO2-ice sublimation that exposes the water-ice-enriched blocks, which in turn are eroded by water-ice sublimation when exposed to sunlight. Our model explains the observed seasonal evolution of the nucleus and reconciles the available data at micro (sub-centimetre) and macro (metre) scales.
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https://hal-insu.archives-ouvertes.fr/insu-03705364
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Submitted on : Monday, June 27, 2022 - 9:04:23 AM
Last modification on : Friday, August 5, 2022 - 12:00:56 PM

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Mauro Ciarniello, Marco Fulle, Andrea Raponi, Gianrico Filacchione, Fabrizio Capaccioni, et al.. Macro and micro structures of pebble-made cometary nuclei reconciled by seasonal evolution. Nature Astronomy, 2022, 6, pp.546-553. ⟨10.1038/s41550-022-01625-y⟩. ⟨insu-03705364⟩

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