Refractory and semi-volatile organics at the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko: Insights from the VIRTIS/Rosetta imaging spectrometer
The VIRTIS (Visible, Infrared and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) instrument aboard the Rosetta spacecraft has performed extensive spectral mapping of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the range 0.3-5 μm. The reflectance spectra collected across the surface display a low reflectance factor over the whole spectral range, two spectral slopes in the visible and near-infrared ranges and a broad absorption band centered at 3.2 μm. The first two of these characteristics are typical of dark small bodies of the Solar System and are difficult to interpret in terms of composition. Moreover, solar wind irradiation may modify the structure and composition of surface materials and there is no unequivocal interpretation of these spectra devoid of vibrational bands. To circumvent these problems, we consider the composition of cometary grains analyzed in the laboratory to constrain the nature of the cometary materials and consider results on surface rejuvenation and solar wind processing provided by the OSIRIS and ROSINA instruments, respectively. Our results lead to five main conclusions: (i) The low albedo of comet 67P/CG is accounted for by a dark refractory polyaromatic carbonaceous component mixed with opaque minerals. VIRTIS data do not provide direct insights into the nature of these opaque minerals. However, according to the composition of cometary grains analyzed in the laboratory, we infer that they consist of Fe-Ni alloys and FeS sulfides. (ii) A semi-volatile component, consisting of a complex mix of low weight molecular species not volatilized at T∼220 K, is likely a major carrier of the 3.2 μm band. Water ice contributes significantly to this feature in the neck region but not in other regions of the comet. COOH in carboxylic acids is the only chemical group that encompasses the broad width of this feature. It appears as a highly plausible candidate along with the NH4+ ion. (iii) Photolytic/thermal residues, produced in the laboratory from interstellar ice analogs, are potentially good spectral analogs. (iv) No hydrated minerals were identified and our data support the lack of genetic links with the CI, CR and CM primitive chondrites. This concerns in particular the Orgueil chondrite, previously suspected to have been of cometary origin. (v) The comparison between fresh and aged terrains revealed no effect of solar wind irradiation on the 3.2 μm band. This is consistent with the presence of efficient resurfacing processes such as dust transport from the interior to the surface, as revealed by the OSIRIS camera.