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Deep Impact and the Origin and Evolution of Cometary Nuclei

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The Deep Impact mission revealed many properties of comet Tempel 1, a typical comet from the Jupiter family in so far as any comet can be considered typical. In addition to the properties revealed by the impact itself, numerous properties were also discovered from observations prior to the impact just because they were the types of observations that had never been made before. The impact showed that the cometary nucleus was very weak at scales from the impactor diameter (∼1 m) to the crater diameter (∼100 m) and suggested that the strength was low at much smaller scales as well. The impact also showed that the cometary nucleus is extremely porous and that the ice was close to the surface but below a devolatilized layer with thickness of order the impactor diameter. The ambient observations showed a huge range of topography, implying ubiquitous layering on many spatial scales, frequent (more than once a week) natural outbursts, many of them correlated with rotational phase, a nuclear surface with many features that are best interpreted as impact craters, and clear chemical heterogeneity in the outgassing from the nucleus.

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Correspondence to Michael F. A’Hearn.

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A’Hearn, M.F. Deep Impact and the Origin and Evolution of Cometary Nuclei. Space Sci Rev 138, 237–246 (2008).

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  • Comets
  • Space missions
  • Nuclei
  • Chemical composition