Tensile strength of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko nucleus material from overhangs

N. Attree, O. Groussin, L. Jorda, D. Nébouy, N. Thomas, Y. Brouet, E. Kührt, F. Preusker, F. Scholten, J. Knollenberg, P. Hartogh, H. Sierks, C. Barbieri, P. Lamy, R. Rodrigo, D. Koschny, H. Rickman, H. U. Keller, M. F. A’Hearn, A.-T. Auger, M. A. Barucci, J.-L. Bertaux, I. Bertini, D. Bodewits, S. Boudreault, G. Cremonese, V. Da Deppo, B. Davidsson, S. Debei, M. De Cecco, J. Deller, M. R. El-Maarry, S. Fornasier, M. Fulle, P. J. Gutiérrez, C. Güttler, S. Hviid, W.-H Ip, G. Kovacs, J. R. Kramm, M. Küppers, L. M. Lara, M. Lazzarin, J. J. Lopez Moreno, S. Lowry, S. Marchi, F. Marzari, S. Mottola, G. Naletto, N. Oklay, M. Pajola, I. Toth, C. Tubiana, J.-B. Vincen, X. Shi. 2018. Tensile strength of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko nucleus material from overhangs. Astronomy and Astrophysics 614, DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/201732155e

We directly measured twenty overhanging cliffs on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko extracted from the latest shape model and estimated the minimum tensile strengths needed to support them against collapse under the comet’s gravity. We find extremely low strengths of around 1 Pa or less (1 to 5 Pa, when scaled to a metre length). The presence of eroded material at the base of most overhangs, as well as the observed collapse of two features andthe implied previous collapse of another, suggests that they are prone to failure and that the true material strengths are close to these lower limits (although we only consider static stresses and not dynamic stress from, for example, cometary activity). Thus, a tensile strength of a few pascals is a good approximation for the tensile strength of the 67P nucleus material, which is in agreement with previous work. We find no particular trends in overhang properties either with size over the ~10–100 m range studied here or location on the nucleus. There are no obvious differences, in terms of strength, height or evidence of collapse, between the populations of overhangs on the two cometary lobes, suggesting that 67P is relatively homogenous in terms of tensile strength. Low material strengths are supportive of cometary formation as a primordial rubble pile or by collisional fragmentation of a small body (tens of km).

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