Comets are the most primitive bodies in the solar system. They retain a largely unprocessed record of conditions in the primordial solar nebula 4.56 Gyr ago, including the initial accretion of dust and ice particles into macroscopic bodies. Current accretion theory suggests that ice and dust aggregates grew to pebble (cm) sizes before streaming instabilities and gravitational collapse brought these pebble swarms together as km-sized (or larger) bodies. Recent imaging of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta OSIRIS camera team has revealed the existence of “goose bump” terrain on the nucleus surface and lining the interior walls of large, ~200 m diameter and 180 m deep cylindrical pits. These pits are believed to be sinkholes, formed when near-surface materials collapse into voids within the nucleus, revealing the fresh comet interior on the walls of the pits. The goose bump terrain consists of 3-4 m diameter “boulders” randomly stacked one on top of another. We propose that these boulders, likely with an icy-conglomerate composition, are the basic building blocks of cometary nuclei. This is the first observational confirmation of current accretion theories, with the caveat that rather than pebbles, the preferred size range is 3-4 m boulders for objects formed in the giant planets region of the solar system. The presence of icy grains beyond the solar nebula snow-line and the large heliocentric range of the giant planets region likely contribute to the formation of these larger boulders, before they are incorporated into cometary nuclei. This work was supported by NASA through the U.S. Rosetta Project.
AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts #47
- Pub Date:
- November 2015