The molecular composition of Comet C/2007 W1 (Boattini): Evidence of a peculiar outgassing and a rich chemistry

G. L. Villanueva, M. J. Mumma, M. A. DiSanti, B. P. Bonev, E. L. Gibb, K. Magee-Sauer, G. A. Blake, C. Salyk

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We measured the chemical composition of Comet C/2007 W1 (Boattini) using the long-slit echelle grating spectrograph at Keck-2 (NIRSPEC) on 2008 July 9 and 10. We sampled 11 volatile species (H2O, OH*, C2H6, CH3OH, H2CO, CH4, HCN, C2H2, NH3, NH2, and CO), and retrieved three important cosmogonic indicators: the ortho-para ratios of H2O and CH4, and an upper-limit for the D/H ratio in water. The abundance ratios of almost all trace volatiles (relative to water) are among the highest ever observed in a comet. The comet also revealed a complex outgassing pattern, with some volatiles (the polar species H2O and CH3OH) presenting very asymmetric spatial profiles (extended in the anti-sunward hemisphere), while others (e.g., C2H6 and HCN) showed particularly symmetric profiles. We present emission profiles measured along the Sun-comet line for all observed volatiles, and discuss different production scenarios needed to explain them. We interpret the emission profiles in terms of release from two distinct moieties of ice, the first being clumps of mixed ice and dust released from the nucleus into the sunward hemisphere. The second moiety considered is very small grains of nearly pure polar ice (water and methanol, without dark material or apolar volatiles). Such grains would sublimate only very slowly, and could be swept into the anti-sunward hemisphere by radiation pressure and solar-actuated non-gravitational jet forces, thus providing an extended source in the anti-sunward hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-240
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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