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Explosion of Comet 17P/Holmes as revealed by the Spitzer Space Telescope

Reach, William T. and Vaubaillon, Jeremie and Lisse, Carey M. and Holloway, Mikel and Rho, Jeonghee (2010) Explosion of Comet 17P/Holmes as revealed by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Icarus, 208 (1). pp. 276-292. ISSN 0019-1035.

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An explosion on Comet 17P/Holmes occurred on 2007 October 23, projecting particulate debris of a wide range of sizes into the interplanetary medium. We observed the comet using the mid-Infrared Spectrograph (5–40 μm), on 2007 November 10 and 2008 February 27, and the imaging photometer (24 and 70 μm), on 2008 March 13, on board the Spitzer Space Telescope. The 2007 November 10 spectral mapping revealed spatially diffuse emission with detailed mineralogical features, primarily from small crystalline olivine grains. The 2008 February 27 spectra, and the central core of the 2007 November 10 spectral map, reveal nearly featureless spectra, due to much larger grains that were ejected from the nucleus more slowly. Optical images were obtained on multiple dates spanning 2007 October 27–2008 March 10 at the Holloway Comet Observatory and 1.5-m telescope at Palomar Observatory. The images and spectra can be segmented into three components: (1) a hemispherical shell fully 28′ on the sky in 2008 March, due to the fastest (262 m s^(−1)), smallest (2 μm) debris, with a mass 1.7 × 10^(12) g; (2) a ‘blob’ or ‘pseudonucleus’ offset from the true nucleus and subtending some 10′ on the sky, due to intermediate speed (93 m s^(−1)) and size (8 μm) particles, with a total mass 2.7 × 10^(12) g; and (3) a ‘core’ centered on the nucleus due to slower (9 m s^(−1)), larger (200 μm) ejecta, with a total mass 3.9 × 10^(12) g. This decomposition of the mid-infrared observations can also explain the temporal evolution of the millimeter-wave flux. The orientation of the leading edge of the ejecta shell and the ejecta ‘blob,’ relative to the nucleus, do not change as the orientation of the Sun changes; instead, the configuration was imprinted by the orientation of the initial explosion. The distribution and speed of ejecta implies an explosion in a conical pattern directed approximately in the solar direction on the date of explosion. The kinetic energy of the ejecta >10^(21) erg is greater than the gravitational binding energy of the nucleus. We model the explosion as being due to crystallization and release of volatiles from interior amorphous ice within a subsurface cavity; once the pressure in the cavity exceeded the surface strength, the material above the cavity was propelled from the comet. The size of the cavity and the tensile strength of the upper layer of the nucleus are constrained by the observed properties of the ejecta; tensile strengths on >10 m scale must be greater than 10 kPa (or else the ejecta energy exceeds the binding energy of the nucleus) and they are plausibly 200 kPa. The appearance of the 2007 outburst is similar to that witnessed in 1892, but the 1892 explosion was less energetic by a factor of about 20.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Reach, William T.0000-0001-8362-4094
Lisse, Carey M.0000-0002-9548-1526
Rho, Jeonghee0000-0003-3643-839X
Additional Information:© 2010 Elsevier Inc. Received 4 August 2009; revised 20 January 2010; accepted 20 January 2010. Available online 1 February 2010. This work is based on observations made with the Spitzer Space Telescope, which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology under a contract with NASA. Support for this work was provided by NASA through an award issued by JPL/Caltech.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Subject Keywords:Comets; Meteors; Infrared observations; Comets, nucleus; Comets, Dust
Issue or Number:1
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20100709-164838482
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:18982
Deposited By: Jason Perez
Deposited On:13 Jul 2010 15:26
Last Modified:31 Oct 2019 02:09

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