Spitzer observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 5.5-4.3 AU from the Sun

Michael S. Kelley, Diane H. Wooden, Cecilia Tubiana, Hermann Boehnhardt, Charles E. Woodward, David E. Harker

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We report Spitzer Space Telescope observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 5.5 and 4.3 AU from the Sun, post-aphelion. Comet 67P is the primary target of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission. The Rosetta spacecraft will rendezvous with the nucleus at heliocentric distances similar to our observations. Rotationally resolved observations at 8 and 24 μm (at a heliocentric distance, rh , of 4.8 AU) that sample the size and color-temperature of the nucleus are combined with aphelion R-band light curves observed at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and yield a mean effective radius of 2.04 ± 0.11 km, and an R-band geometric albedo of 0.054 ± 0.006. The amplitudes of the R-band and mid-infrared light curves agree, which suggests that the variability is dominated by the shape of the nucleus. We also detect the dust trail of the comet at 4.8 and 5.5 AU, constrain the grain sizes to be ≲6 mm, and estimate the impact hazard to Rosetta. We find no evidence for recently ejected dust in our images. If the activity of 67P is consistent from orbit to orbit, then we may expect the Rosetta spacecraft will return images of an inactive or weakly active nucleus as it rendezvous with the comet at rh = 4 AU in 2014.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4633-4642
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • comets: individual (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko)
  • infrared: solar system
  • meteors, meteoroids


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