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Journal Article

Surface Morphology of Comets and Associated Evolutionary Processes: A Review of Rosetta’s Observations of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko


Krasilnikov,  S. S.
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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El-Maarry, M. R., Groussin, O., Keller, H. U., Thomas, N., Vincent, J.-B., Mottola, S., et al. (2019). Surface Morphology of Comets and Associated Evolutionary Processes: A Review of Rosetta’s Observations of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Space Science Reviews, 215(4): UNSP 36. doi:10.1007/s11214-019-0602-1.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-5C3C-1
Comets can be regarded as active planetary bodies because they display evidence for nearly all fundamental geological processes, which include impact cratering, tectonism, and erosion. Comets also display sublimation-driven outgassing, which is comparable to volcanism on larger planetary bodies in that it provides a conduit for delivering materials from the interior to the surface. However, in the domain of active geological bodies, comets occupy a special niche since their geologic activity is almost exclusively driven by externally supplied energy (i.e. solar energy) as opposed to an internal heat source, which makes them “seasonally-active” geological bodies. During their active phase approaching the Sun, comets also develop a transient atmosphere that interacts with the surface and contributes to its evolution, particularly by transporting materials across the surface. Variations in solar energy input on diurnal and seasonal scale cause buildup of thermal stresses within consolidated materials that lead to weathering through fracturing, and eventually mass-wasting. The commonly irregular shapes of comets also play a major role in their evolution by leading to (1) non-uniform gravitational forces that affect material movement across the surface, and (2) spatially heterogeneous outgassing patterns that affect the comet’s orbital dynamics and lead to tidal stresses that can further fracture the nucleus. In this chapter, we review the surface morphology of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as well as its seasonal evolution as viewed by Rosetta from August 2014 to September 2016, their link to various processes, and the forces that drive surface evolution.