How primordial is the structure of comet 67P/C-G? Combined collisional and dynamical models suggest a late formation


There is an active debate about whether the properties of comets as observed today are primordial or, alternatively, if they are a result of collisional evolution or other processes. We investigate the effects of collisions on a comet with a structure like 67P/C-G. We develop scaling laws for the critical specific impact energies required for a significant shape alteration. These are then used in simulations of the combined dynamical and collisional evolution of comets in order to study the survival probability of a primordially formed object with a shape like 67P/C-G. The effects of impacts on comet 67P/C-G are studied using a SPH shock physics code. The resulting critical specific impact energy defines a minimal projectile size which is used to compute the number of shape-changing collisions in a set of dynamical simulations. These simulations follow the dispersion of the trans-Neptunian disk during the giant planet instability, the formation of a scattered disk, and produce 87 objects that penetrate into the inner solar system with orbits consistent with the observed JFC population. The collisional evolution before the giant planet instability is not considered here. Hence, our study is conservative in its estimation of the number of collisions. We find that in any scenario considered here, comet 67P/C-G would have experienced a significant number of shape-changing collisions, if it formed primordially. This is also the case for generic bi-lobe shapes. Our study also shows that impact heating is very localized and that collisionally processed bodies can still have a high porosity. Our study indicates that the observed bi-lobe structure of comet 67P/C-G may not be primordial, but might have originated in a rather recent event, possibly within the last 1 Gy. This may be the case for any kilometer-sized two-component cometary nuclei.Comment: Astronomy & Astrophysics, accepted pending minor revision

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