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Measuring physical properties at the surface of a comet nucleus

Ball, Andrew Jonathan (1997) Measuring physical properties at the surface of a comet nucleus. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85981) (KAR id:85981)


The European Space Agency’s cornerstone mission Rosetta is due for launch in January 2003. It will perform a rendezvous with comet 46P/Wirtanen beyond 3 AU and, following an initial mapping phase, deploy a lander to a selected site on the nucleus surface. The Rosetta Lander will provide unprecedented access to cometary material. Some of the most uncertain characteristics of the nucleus material are physical properties such as its density, the structure of the surface layers and its mechanical strength. MUPUS (Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Sub-Surface Science) is one of the experiment packages selected for the Lander payload which will address certain physical properties and their evolution with time. This thesis focuses on the in situ measurement of the density of the surface layers by a radiation densitometer incorporated into the MUPUS thermal probe, and on the penetrometry measurements to be performed by an accelerometer mounted in the Lander’s anchoring harpoon. A concept for incorporation of a gamma ray attenuation densitometer into the thermal probe is presented and explored. A 137Cs radioisotope source will be mounted near the tip of the probe and semiconductor radiation detectors situated at the top of the probe will monitor the transmitted count rate during probe insertion, as the intervening material attenuates the radiation. Preliminary experiments to evaluate cadmium telluride (CdTe) detectors for this purpose are presented, as well as results from a specially-developed Monte Carlo computer code designed to model the absorption and scattering of photons in bulk material. Also presented is a control algorithm to dynamically re-budget the integration time and depth resolution of the instrument as it is inserted by the hammering mechanism. This is required due to: a) the wide range of possible densities the instrument may encounter, b) the variation vs. depth of required integration time, and c) the limited time in which the measurement must be performed. For lower than nominal densities, integration time may be wasted when it could be used to improve the accuracy and depth resolution. For higher densities the integration time at particular depths may not be sufficient to obtain acceptable accuracy; in this case some depth resolution could be sacrificed to improve the accuracy. The proposed algorithm uses the density measured at each point to update the time budget and depth resolution for the remaining stages of penetration. Although the use of the gamma ray backscatter type of densitometer was eventually rejected in favour of the aforementioned attenuation technique, investigation of the backscatter technique resulted in an extension to the Single Scattering Model– an analytic approximation of its operation. This extended model adds to our understanding of these devices' response to spatial inhomogeneity. Calculations show that anchoring of the Lander is necessary to avoid possible ejection from the nucleus by gas drag in the case of a landing in an active area. The use of the Lander’s anchoring harpoon to perform penetrometry measurements is reported, including the results of preliminary experiments and techniques for analysing the accelerometry data. It is shown that layers with distinctly different strengths may be identified, and that the mean deviatoric stress– a strength parameter– may be constrained to within a factor of about 2.2. This would be a significant improvement on current estimates, which vary by several orders of magnitude. Together with other investigations on the Rosetta mission the densitometry and penetrometry measurements will serve to constrain models of the physical state and evolution of the cometary material found at the landing site. In particular both instruments are sensitive to near-surface layering, which may be expected from theoretical models of cometary activity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.85981
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Astronomy; Comets
Subjects: Q Science > QB Astronomy
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:23 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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