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Title:
Comet outbursts and polymers of HCN
Authors:
Rettig, Terrence W.; Tegler, Stephen C.; Pasto, Daniel J.; Mumma, Michael J.
Affiliation:
AA(Notre Dame Univ., IN), AB(Notre Dame Univ., IN), AC(Notre Dame Univ., IN), AD(NASA, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD)
Publication:
Astrophysical Journal, Part 1 (ISSN 0004-637X), vol. 398, no. 1, p. 293-298. (ApJ Homepage)
Publication Date:
10/1992
Category:
Astrophysics
Origin:
STI
NASA/STI Keywords:
Comet Nuclei, Cyano Compounds, Interstellar Chemistry, Interstellar Matter, Polymerization, Astronomical Models, Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Energy Transfer
DOI:
10.1086/171857
Bibliographic Code:
1992ApJ...398..293R

Abstract

Dramatic cometary outbursts have been noted by observers for many years. These outbursts can sometimes increase the apparent brightness of a comet up to 9 mag and release energy on the order of 10 exp 19 ergs. A number of mechanisms have been suggested for outburst activity; however, none has been generally accepted. HCN is a known constituent of both interstellar icy grain mantles and cometary nuclei, and HCN polymers have been postulated to exist on the dark surface of comets such as P/Halley. Since polymerization is a strongly exothermic process, we investigate the possibility that HCN polymerization can provide the energy needed for outbursts. Polymerization may be continuing in the inhomogeneous interior of comets. In addition, the reactive CN groups in these oligomers can be hydrolyzed and may contribute to CO2 and CO pressure buildup in the interior of comets.

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