The unusually high porosity of the interior of the nucleus provides the first indication that this growth cannot have been via violent collisions, as these would have compacted the fragile material. Structures and features on different size scales observed by Rosetta’s cameras provide further information on how this growth may have taken place.
Earlier work showed that the head and body were originally separate objects, but the collision that merged them must have been at low speed in order not to destroy both of them. The fact that both parts have similar layering also tells us that they must have undergone similar evolutionary histories and that survival rates against catastrophic collision must have been high for a significant period of time.
Merging events may also have happened on smaller scales. For example, three spherical ‘caps’ have been identified in the Bastet region on the small comet lobe, and suggestions are that they are remnants of smaller cometesimals that are still partially preserved today.
At even smaller scales of just a few metres across, there are the so-called ‘goosebumps’ and ‘clod’ features, rough textures observed in numerous pits and exposed cliff walls in various locations on the comet.
While it is possible that this morphology might arise from fracturing alone, it is actually thought to represent an intrinsic ‘lumpiness’ of the comet’s constituents. That is, these ‘goosebumps’ could be showing the typical size of the smallest cometesimals that accumulated and merged to build up the comet, made visible again today through erosion due to sunlight.
According to theory, the speeds at which cometesimals collide and merge change during the growth process, with a peak when the lumps have sizes of a few metres. For this reason, metre-sized structures are expected to be the most compact and resilient, and it is particularly interesting that the comet material appears lumpy on that particular size scale.