Understanding measured water rotational temperatures and column densities in the very innermost coma of Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3 B

Fougere, N.; Combi, M.R.; Tenishev, V.; Rubin, Martin; Bonev, B.P.; Mumma, M.J. (2012). Understanding measured water rotational temperatures and column densities in the very innermost coma of Comet 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3 B. Icarus, 221(1), pp. 174-185. Elsevier 10.1016/j.icarus.2012.07.019

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Direct sublimation of a comet nucleus surface is usually considered to be the main source of gas in the coma of a comet. However, evidence from a number of comets including the recent spectacular images of Comet 103P/Hartley 2 by the EPOXI mission indicates that the nucleus alone may not be responsible for all, or possibly at times even most, of the total amount of gas seen in the coma. Indeed, the sublimation of icy grains, which have been injected into the coma, appears to constitute an important source. We use the fully-kinetic Direct Simulation Monte Carlo model of Tenishev et al. (Tenishev, V.M., Combi, M.R., Davidsson, B. [2008]. Astrophys. J., 685, 659−677; Tenishev, V.M., Combi, M.R., Rubin, M. [2011]. Astrophys. J., 732) to reproduce the measurements of column density and rotational temperature of water in Comet 73P-B/Schwassmann–Wachmann 3 obtained with a very high spatial resolution of ∼30 km using IRCS/Subaru in May 2006 (Bonev, B.P., Mumma, M.J., Kawakita, H., Kobayashi, H., Villanueva, G.L. [2008]. Icarus, 196, 241−248). For gas released solely from the cometary nucleus at a heliocentric distance of 1 AU, modeled rotational temperatures start at 110 K close to the surface and decrease to only several tens of degrees by 10–20 nucleus radii. However, the measured decay of both rotational temperature and column density with distance from the nucleus is much slower than predicted by this simple model. The addition of a substantial (distributed) source of gas from icy grains in the model slows the decay in rotational temperature and provides a more gradual drop in column density profiles. Together with a contribution of rotational heating of water molecules by electrons, the combined effects allow a much better match to the IRCS/Subaru observations. From the spatial distributions of water abundance and temperature measured in 73P/SW3-B, we have identified and quantified multiple mechanisms of release. The application of this tool to other comets may permit such studies over a range of heliocentric and geocentric distances.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Physics Institute > Space Research and Planetary Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Rubin, Martin


500 Science > 520 Astronomy
600 Technology > 620 Engineering








Martin Rubin

Date Deposited:

17 May 2016 18:02

Last Modified:

17 May 2016 18:02

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