Thermophysics of fractures on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Höfner, S.; Vincent, J.-B.; Blum, J.; Davidsson, B. J. R.; Sierks, H.; Elmaarry, Mohamed Ramy; Deller, J.; Hofmann, M.; Hu, X.; Pajola, M.; Barbieri, C.; Lamy, P. L.; Rodrigo, R.; Koschny, D.; Rickman, H.; Keller, H. U.; A’Hearn, M. F.; Auger, A.-T.; Barucci, M. A.; Bertaux, J.-L.; ... (2017). Thermophysics of fractures on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Astronomy and astrophysics, 608(A121), A121. EDP Sciences 10.1051/0004-6361/201628726

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Context. The camera OSIRIS on board Rosetta obtained high-resolution images of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P). Great parts of the nucleus surface are composed of fractured terrain. Aims. Fracture formation, evolution, and their potential relationship to physical processes that drive activity are not yet fully understood. Observed temperatures and gas production rates can be explained or interpreted with the presence of fractures by applying appropriate modelling methods. Methods. We followed a transient thermophysical model approach that includes radiative, conductive, and water-ice sublimation fluxes by considering a variety of heliocentric distances, illumination conditions, and thermophysical properties for a set of characteristic fracture geometries on the nucleus of 67P. We computed diurnal temperatures, heat fluxes, and outgassing behaviour in order to derive and distinguish the influence of the mentioned parameters on fractured terrain. Results. Our analysis confirms that fractures, as already indicated by former studies about concavities, deviate from flat-terrain topographies with equivalent properties, mostly through the effect of self-heating. Compared to flat terrain, illuminated cometary fractures are generally warmer, with smaller diurnal temperature fluctuations. Maximum sublimation rates reach higher peaks, and dust mantle quenching effects on sublimation rates are weaker. Consequently, the rough structure of the fractured terrain leads to significantly higher inferred surface thermal inertia values than for flat areas with identical physical properties, which might explain the range of measured thermal inertia on 67P. Conclusions. At 3.5AU heliocentric distance, sublimation heat sinks in fractures converge to maximum values >50W=m² and trigger dust activity that can be related mainly to H₂O. Fractures are likely to grow through the erosive interplay of alternating sublimation and thermal fatigue.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Elmaarry, Mohamed Ramy and Thomas, Nicolas


500 Science > 520 Astronomy
600 Technology > 620 Engineering




EDP Sciences




Dora Ursula Zimmerer

Date Deposited:

18 Apr 2018 13:04

Last Modified:

22 Apr 2018 02:21

Publisher DOI:





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