Remote infrared observations of parent volatiles in comets: A window on the early solar system

M. J. Mumma, M. A. DiSanti, N. Dello Russo, K. Magee-Sauer, E. Gibb, R. Novak

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129 Scopus citations


Organic volatiles and water in Oort Cloud comets were investigated at infrared wavelengths. The detected species include H 2 O, CO, CH 3 OH, CH 4 , C 2 H 2 , C 2 H 6 , OCS, HCN, NH 3 , and H 2 CO. Several daughter fragments (CN, OH, NH 2 , etc.) are also measured, and OH prompt emission provides a proxy for water. Long-slit spectra are taken at high spectral dispersion and high spatial resolution, eliminating several sources of systematic error. The resulting parent volatile production rates are highly robust, permitting a sensitive search for compositional diversity among comets. Here, seven OC comets are compared. Six (including Halley) exhibit similar compositions (excepting CO and CH 4 ). Their low formation temperatures (∼30 K) suggest this group probably formed beyond 30 AU from the young sun. However, C/1999 S4 is severely depleted in hypervolatiles and also in methanol, and it likely formed near 5 - 10 AU. C/2001 A2 is discussed briefly to illustrate future prospects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2563-2575
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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