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Journal Articles Space Science Reviews Year : 2015

The Subsurface Structure and Density of Cometary Nuclei


Little is known about the internal structure and density of cometary nuclei. Indirect evidences available so far are not compelling and these questions essentially remain a matter of speculation. It is therefore important to fully exploit the potential sources of information and this is particularly the case of radar observations which have the capability to probe the first few meters of cometary nuclei when they come sufficiently close to Earth. We review the available results and find that proper data are available for eight nuclei yielding their geometric radar albedo and the dielectric permittivity of their subsurface assuming that the scattering of the radar beam is predominantly specular. The range of permittivity is quite broad, extending from 1.7 to 3.1 although a more realistic interval is probably 2 to 3.1 implying pronounced diversity in the subsurface properties of cometary nuclei. A novel interpretation of these results is performed based on the calculation of the dielectric permittivity of various samples of three-phase mixtures of ice, dust and vacuum using two mixing formulas and on the introduction of ternary diagrams where the three axes correspond to the volumetric fraction of the three phases. The derived values of the permittivity supplemented by a general constraint on the dust-to-ice mass ratio define restricted regions in the ternary diagrams broadly imposing that the ice fraction lies in the range 0.1 to 0.2, the dust fraction in the range 0.2 to 0.5, and the porosity in the range 35 % to 75 %. The density of the subsurface of the considered eight nuclei is only constrained to the broad range 500 to 2000 kg m-3 due to the poorly known density of the dust phase. However, the results unambiguously reveal considerable variation among cometary nuclei of the structure and properties of their subsurface layers.
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Dates and versions

insu-03580802 , version 1 (18-02-2022)



P. L. Lamy, A. Herique, I. Toth. The Subsurface Structure and Density of Cometary Nuclei. Space Science Reviews, 2015, 197, pp.85-99. ⟨10.1007/s11214-015-0160-0⟩. ⟨insu-03580802⟩
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