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The organic-rich surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as seen by VIRTIS/Rosetta

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Science  23 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6220, aaa0628
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0628

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Abstract

The VIRTIS (Visible, Infrared and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer) instrument on board the Rosetta spacecraft has provided evidence of carbon-bearing compounds on the nucleus of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The very low reflectance of the nucleus (normal albedo of 0.060 ± 0.003 at 0.55 micrometers), the spectral slopes in visible and infrared ranges (5 to 25 and 1.5 to 5% kÅ−1), and the broad absorption feature in the 2.9-to-3.6–micrometer range present across the entire illuminated surface are compatible with opaque minerals associated with nonvolatile organic macromolecular materials: a complex mixture of various types of carbon-hydrogen and/or oxygen-hydrogen chemical groups, with little contribution of nitrogen-hydrogen groups. In active areas, the changes in spectral slope and absorption feature width may suggest small amounts of water-ice. However, no ice-rich patches are observed, indicating a generally dehydrated nature for the surface currently illuminated by the Sun.

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