The activity of most comets near the Sun is dominated by the sublimation of frozen water, the most abundant ice in comets. Some comets, however, are active well beyond the water-ice sublimation limit of ∼3 au. Three bodies dominate the observational record and modeling efforts for distantly active comets: the long-period comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), and the short-period comets (with Centaur orbits) 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 and 2060 Chiron. We summarize what is known about these three objects with an emphasis on their gaseous comae. We calculate their CN/CO and CO2/CO production rate ratios from the literature and discuss implications, such as HCN and CO2 outgassing are not significant contributors to their comae. Using our own data we derive CO production rates, Q(CO), for all three objects to examine whether there is a correlation between gas production and different orbital histories and/or size. The CO measurements of Hale-Bopp (4-11 AU) and 29P are consistent with a nominal production rate of Q(CO) = 3.5 × 1029 r-2 superimposed with sporadic outbursts. The similarity of Hale-Bopp CO production rates for pre- and post-perihelion suggests that thermal inertia was not very important and therefore most of the activity is at or near the surface of the comet. We further examine the applicability of existing models in explaining the systematic behavior of our small sample. We find that orbital history does not appear to play a significant role in explaining 29P’s CO production rates. 29P outproduces Hale-Bopp at the same heliocentric distance, even though it has been subjected to much more solar heating. Previous modeling work on such objects predicts that 29P should have been devolatilized over a fresher comet like Hale-Bopp. This may point to 29P having a different orbital history than current models predict, with its current orbit acquired more recently. On the other hand, Chiron’s CO measurements are consistent with it being significantly depleted over its original state, perhaps due to increased radiogenic heating made possible by its much larger size or its higher processing due to orbital history. Observed spectral line profiles for several volatiles are consistent with the development and sublimation of icy grains in the coma at about 5-6 au for 29P and Hale-Bopp, and this is probably a common feature in distantly active comets, and an important source of volatiles for all comets within 5 au. In contrast, the narrow CO line profiles indicate a nuclear, and not extended, origin for CO beyond ∼4 au.
Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
- Pub Date:
- March 2017
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics
- 20 pages, 4 figures, 5 tables. Replaces previous version with final published version. See published version at: https://doi.org/10.1088/1538-3873/129/973/031001