Cometary Comae-Surface Links: The Physics of Gas and Dust from the Surface to a Spacecraft

Raphael Marschall, Yuri Skorov, Vladimir Zakharov, Ladislav Rezac, Selina-Barbara Gerig, Chariton Christou, S. Kokou Dadzie, Alessandra Migliorini, Giovanna Rinaldi, Jessica Agarwal, Jean-Baptiste Vincent, David Kappel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


A comet is a highly dynamic object, undergoing a permanent state of change. These changes have to be carefully classified and considered according to their intrinsic temporal and spatial scales. The Rosetta mission has, through its contiguous in-situ and remote sensing coverage of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (hereafter 67P) over the time span of August 2014 to September 2016, monitored the emergence, culmination, and winding down of the gas and dust comae. This provided an unprecedented data set and has spurred a large effort to connect in-situ and remote sensing measurements to the surface. In this review, we address our current understanding of cometary activity and the challenges involved when linking comae data to the surface. We give the current state of research by describing what we know about the physical processes involved from the surface to a few tens of kilometres above it with respect to the gas and dust emission from cometary nuclei. Further, we describe how complex multidimensional cometary gas and dust models have developed from the Halley encounter of 1986 to today. This includes the study of inhomogeneous outgassing and determination of the gas and dust production rates. Additionally, the different approaches used and results obtained to link coma data to the surface will be discussed. We discuss forward and inversion models and we describe the limitations of the respective approaches. The current literature suggests that there does not seem to be a single uniform process behind cometary activity. Rather, activity seems to be the consequence of a variety of erosion processes, including the sublimation of both water ice and more volatile material, but possibly also more exotic processes such as fracture and cliff erosion under thermal and mechanical stress, sub-surface heat storage, and a complex interplay of these processes. Seasons and the nucleus shape are key factors for the distribution and temporal evolution of activity and imply that the heliocentric evolution of activity can be highly individual for every comet, and generalisations can be misleading.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number8
Early online date6 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Coma
  • Comets
  • Dust
  • Dynamics
  • Gas
  • Inversion
  • Modelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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