Clues to cometary circular polarization from studying the magnetic field in the vicinity of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Ludmilla Kolokolova*, Christoph Koenders, Charlotte Goetz, Vera Rosenbush, Nikolai Kiselev, Thiem Hoang, Alexander Lazarian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Circular polarization in cometary continuum bands has been observed for more than 30 years. Recently, imaging data on circular polarization have been obtained for more than 10 comets using the 6-m Big Telescope Alt-azimuthal (BTA) telescope (Russia). However, despite the accumulation of significant amounts of data, the mechanisms that form circular polarization in the cometary environment are still a mystery. Regular mechanisms, such as multiple scattering in an optically thick medium or the domination of particles or materials of a specific mirror asymmetry (including homochirality), could not explain the observations. Particle alignment was considered the most feasible mechanism; however, the cause of the particle alignment was not clear. The most reasonable mechanism, alignment in a magnetic field,was considered doubtful, as comets do not have their own magnetic field and, according to the in situ results for comet Halley, the solar magnetic field could not penetrate deeply into the coma. However, new theoretical studies of cometary coma interaction with the solar magnetic field and, especially, Rosetta observations of the diamagnetic cavity of comet 67P/Churyumov- Gerasimenko showed that the solar wind magnetic field can penetrate as close to the nucleus as several dozen kilometres. This allows us to suggest alignment in the solar magnetic field as a reason for the observed circular polarization. Based on the data obtained for comet 67P, we estimate the time necessary for the alignment of cometary particles in the solar magnetic field. The estimates obtained are consistent with the observations of cometary circular polarization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S422-S431
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Clues to cometary circular polarization from studying the magnetic field in the vicinity of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this