The gas-driven dust activity of comets is still an unresolved question in cometary science. In the past, it was believed that comets are dirty snowballs and that the dust is ejected when the ice retreats. However, thanks to the various space missions to comets, it has become evident that comets have a much higher dust-to-ice ratio than previously thought and that most of the dust mass is ejected in large particles. Here, we report on new comet-simulation experiments dedicated to the study of the ejection of dust aggregates caused by the sublimation of solid water ice. We find that dust ejection exactly occurs when the pressure of the water vapour above the ice surface exceeds the tensile strength plus the gravitational load of the covering dust layer. Furthermore, we observed the ejection of clusters of dust aggregates, whose sizes increase with increasing thickness of the ice-covering dust-aggregate layer. In addition, the trajectories of the ejected aggregates suggest that most of the aggregates obtained a non-vanishing initial velocity from the ejection event.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
- Pub Date:
- February 2019
- methods: laboratory: solid state;
- comets: general;
- Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics