Academic journal article Science and Children

Some Comets Split in Two, Then Reunite

Academic journal article Science and Children

Some Comets Split in Two, Then Reunite

Article excerpt

For some comets, breaking up is not that hard to do.

A new study indicates that bodies of some periodic comets, objects that orbit the Sun in less than 200 years, may regularly split in two, then reunite down the road. In fact, this may be a repeating process fundamental to comet evolution, according to the study.

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In order to reconstruct the past life of comet 67P, the team used numerical models in which the spin rate was cranked up from its roughly one rotation every 12 hours to one rotation every seven to nine hours. The models showed the faster spin would lead to more stress and the formation of two similar cracks on the neck of 67P in the same location.

There are several factors that can cause comet nuclei to spin faster. During flybys of the Sun or Jupiter, for example, periodic comets like 67P can get torqued by gravity, causing them to either spin up or spin down. The spin also can be affected by periodic comet outgassing, when icy compounds such as carbon dioxide and ammonia shift directly from a frozen state to gaseous state and blow off the surface.

The models run by the team showed that if 67P's spin is increased to less than seven hours per rotation, the head will pop off. …

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