Craft reveals 'goosebumps', dunes and other features

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released details of the first bushel of studies derived from the Rosetta spacecraft's visit to Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The journal Science has devoted a special issue to seven studies of the comet, but let's do a summary here.

For starters, boffins have decided that 67P is fluffy, or at least “has a very high porosity of 70–80%, with the interior structure likely comprising weakly bonded ice-dust clumps with small void spaces between them.”

Boffins have also decided the comet is comprised of 19 regions “separated by distinct geomorphological boundaries” and named after ancient Egyptian deities.

The 19 regions of 67P -ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The 19 regions of Comet 67P.
Image credit for all pics in this story - ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Bigger version here

The ESA says the five types of region are:

  • Dust-covered spots like Ma’at, Ash and Babi;
  • Areas containing brittle materials with pits and circular structures (Seth)
  • Large-scale depressions (Hatmehit, Nut and Aten);
  • Smooth terrains (Hapi, Imhotep and Anubis);
  • Rock-like surfaces (Maftet, Bastet, Serqet, Hathor, Anuket, Khepry, Aker, Atum and Apis).

Dusty regions produce features that look a lot like terrestrial dunes and boulders with “wind tails” illustrated with red arrows below.

Dusty regions on comet 67P

Dusty regions on comet 67P
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Among the features spotted on 67P's rocky bits are pits boffins have called “Goosebumps”.

'Goosebumps' on Comet 67p

Oh Rosetta, you give me goosebumps
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Scientists aren't sure what caused the goosebumps or why they're there. Nor has the big data dump given us much more of a clue about why the comet has its distinctive rubber duck shape. Boffins aren't ruling out erosion as one cause, but also feel the hypothesis that 67P might be two pieces of fused rock still has merit.

If the comet is indeed the product of two rocks coming together, it may yet come apart as 67P has some colossal cracks. Here's one 500 metres long, down Anuket way.

A crack on comet 67P

The 500m crack in the Anuket region of Coment 67P
Bigger version here

Another of the comet's features have been labelled “pits”. The interesting thing about these it that some contain material that spews out as “jets” when they face the sun.

A 'pit' on comet 67p

This really is the pits on Comet 67P
Bigger version here

The images and analysis above have been made despite Rosetta having mapped just 70 per cent of the comet to date. The remaining regions haven't been well lit enough to snap since Rosetta arrived last year. Mission scientists are hopeful that once we see all of the comet we'll be able to piece together a better guess at how it works and what it tells us about the solar system.

Comet 67P closeup

A last look at 67P. Awesome, isn't it?


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