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The Rosetta science team has determined that Comet 67P/C-G has no voids or large caverns in its interior, and that its low density is because its dust and water ice have mixed to produce a “fluffy” density.
In a new study, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature, a team led by Martin Pätzold, from Rheinische Institut für Umweltforschung an der Universität zu Köln, Germany, have shown that Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is also a low-density object, but they have also been able to rule out a cavernous interior. This result is consistent with earlier results from Rosetta’s CONSERT radar experiment showing that the double-lobed comet’s ‘head’ is fairly homogenous on spatial scales of a few tens of metres.
The most reasonable explanation then is that the comet’s porosity must be an intrinsic property of dust particles mixed with the ice that make up the interior. In fact, earlier spacecraft measurements had shown that comet dust is typically not a compacted solid, but rather a ‘fluffy’ aggregate, giving the dust particles high porosity and low density, and Rosetta’s COSIMA and GIADA instruments have shown that the same kinds of dust grains are also found at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.