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Catastrophic disruptions as the origin of bilobate comets

Abstract : Several comets observed at close range have bilobate shapes1, including comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P/C–G), which was imaged by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission2,3. Bilobate comets are thought to be primordial because they are rich in supervolatiles (for example, N2 and CO) and have a low bulk density, which implies that their formation requires a very low-speed accretion of two bodies. However, slow accretion does not only occur during the primordial phase of the Solar System; it can also occur at later epochs as part of the eaccumulation process resulting from the collisional disruption of a larger body4, so this cannot directly constrain the age of bilobate comets. Here, we show by numerical simulation that 67P/C–G and other elongated or bilobate comets can be formed in the wake of catastrophic collisional disruptions of larger bodies while maintaining their volatiles and low density throughout the process. Since this process can occur at any epoch of our Solar System’s history, from early on through to the present day5, there is no need for these objects to be formed primordially. These findings indicate that observed prominent geological features, such as pits and stratified surface layers4,5, may not be primordial.
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Stephen Schwartz, Patrick Michel, Martin Jutzi, Simone Marchi, Yun Zhang, et al.. Catastrophic disruptions as the origin of bilobate comets. Nature Astronomy, Nature Publishing Group, 2018, ⟨10.1038/s41550-018-0395-2⟩. ⟨hal-01736706⟩



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