Radar properties of comets: Parametric dielectric modeling of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Essam Heggy, Elizabeth M. Palmer, Wlodek Kofman, Stephen M. Clifford, Kevin Righter, Alain Hérique

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39 Citations (Scopus)


In 2014, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission is scheduled to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Comet 67P). Rosetta's CONSERT experiment aims to explore the cometary nucleus' geophysical properties using radar tomography. The expected scientific return and inversion algorithms are mainly dependent on our understanding of the dielectric properties of the comet nucleus and how they vary with the spatial distribution of geophysical parameters. Using observations of Comets 9P/Tempel 1 and 81P/Wild 2 in combination with dielectric laboratory measurements of temperature, porosity, and dust-to-ice mass ratio dependencies for cometary analog material, we have constructed two hypothetical three-dimensional parametric dielectric models of Comet 67P's nucleus to assess different dielectric scenarios of the inner structure. Our models suggest that dust-to-ice mass ratios and porosity variations generate the most significant measurable dielectric contrast inside the comet nucleus, making it possible to explore the structural and compositional hypotheses of cometary nuclei. Surface dielectric variations, resulting from temperature changes induced by solar illumination of the comet's faces, have also been modeled and suggest that the real part of the dielectric constant varies from 1.9 to 3.0, hence changing the surface radar reflectivity. For CONSERT, this variation could be significant at low incidence angles, when the signal propagates through a length of dust mantle comparable to the wavelength. The overall modeled dielectric permittivity spatial and temporal variations are therefore consistent with the expected deep penetration of CONSERT's transmitted wave through the nucleus. It is also clear that changes in the physical properties of the nucleus induce sufficient variation in the dielectric properties of cometary material to allow their inversion from radar tomography.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-939
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2012



  • Comets, Composition
  • Comets, Dust
  • Experimental techniques
  • Ices
  • Radar observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

Cite this

Heggy, E., Palmer, E. M., Kofman, W., Clifford, S. M., Righter, K., & Hérique, A. (2012). Radar properties of comets: Parametric dielectric modeling of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Icarus, 221(2), 925-939. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2012.09.023