Gas Production in Distant Comets

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Molecular spectroscopy at radio wavelengths is a tool well suited for studying the composition and outgassing kinematics of cometary comae. This is particularly true for distant comets, i.e. comets at heliocentric distances greater than a few AU, where the excitation of molecules is inefficient other than for rotational energy levels. At these distances, water sublimation is inefficient, and cometary activity is dominated by outgassing of carbon monoxide.An observing campaign is presented, where the millimeter-wave emission from CO in comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 has been studied in detail using the Swedish-ESO Submillimetre Telescope (SEST). Coma models have been used to analyse the spectra. The production of CO is found to have two separate sources, one releasing CO gas on the nuclear dayside, and one extended source, where CO is produced from coma material, proposed to be icy dust grains.Radio observations of many molecules in comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) have been carried out in a long-term international effort using several radio telescopes. An overview of the results is presented, describing the evolution of the gas production as the comet passed through the inner Solar system. Spectra recorded using the SEST, primarily of CO, for heliocentric distances from 3 to 11 AU are analysed in detail, also using coma models.The concept of icy grains constituting the extended source discovered in comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 is examined by theoretical modelling of micrometre-sized ice/dust particles at 6 AU from the Sun. It is shown that that such grains can release their content of volatiles on timescales similar to that found for the extended source.