Rosetta’s Comet Is Too Hot For Complete Ice Surface, Spacecraft En Route Reveals

by Elizabeth Howell on August 1, 2014

Graphic of the instrument on the Rosetta spacecraft that measured the comet's temperature in mid-July 2014. Credit: European Space Agency

Graphic of the instrument on the Rosetta spacecraft that measured the comet’s temperature in mid-July 2014. Credit: European Space Agency

Anyone eager for a comet countdown? It’s just a few days now until the Rosetta spacecraft arrives near Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on August 6, and with each passing day more detail becomes visible.

The “rubber duckie”-shaped comet has an average surface temperature of –70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit), which is far warmer than scientists expect. At 20 to 30 degrees Celsius (68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than predicted, the scientists say that the comet is too hot to be covered in ice. It must instead of a dark crust.

“This result is very interesting, since it gives us the first clues on the composition and physical properties of the comet’s surface,” stated Fabrizio Capaccioni, principal investigator of the visible, infrared and thermal imaging spectrometer (VIRTIS) that took the measurements.

Capaccioni, who is from Italy’s INAF-IAPS, led a team that took measurements of the comet between July 13 and July 21. What they found was also consistent with the findings from other close-up views of comets, such as 1P/Halley. Observations from afar already revealed that Rosetta had low reflectivity, so this is consistent with those far-off looks.

“This doesn’t exclude the presence of patches of relatively clean ice, however, and very soon, VIRTIS will be able to start generating maps showing the temperature of individual features,” stated Capaccioni.

Source: European Space Agency


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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