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Astron. Astrophys. 330, 375-380 (1998)

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Making a comet nucleus

J. Mayo Greenberg

Laboratory Astrophysics, University of Leiden, Postbus 9504, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands (mayo@rulhl1.LeidenUniv.nl)

Received 26 June 1997 / Accepted 24 September 1997


The chemical composition of a comet nucleus can be very strictly constrained by combining the latest results on: the core-mantle interstellar dust model, the solar system abundances of the elements, the space observed composition of the dust of comet Halley, and the latest data on the volatile molecules of comet comae. The distribution of the components in the comet nucleus fall naturally into two basic categories - refractories and volatiles. The refractory components are tightly constrained to consist of about [FORMULA] of the mass of a comet as silicates (a generic term for combinations of the elements Si, Mg, Fe), [FORMULA] complex organic refractory material (dominated by carbon), and about [FORMULA] in the form of extremely small (attogram) carbonaceous/large molecule (PAH) particles. The remaining atoms are in an H2 O dominated mixture containing of the order of [FORMULA] each of CO, CO2, CH3 OH plus other simple molecules. The H2 O abundance itself is very strictly limited to [FORMULA] of the total mass of a comet - not much more nor much less. The refractory to volatile (dust to gas) ratio is about 1:1, while the dust to H2 O ratio is [FORMULA]. The maximum mean density of a fully packed nucleus would be [FORMULA]. The morphological structure of the component materials, following the interstellar dust into the final stage of the presolar cloud contraction, is as tenth micron silicate cores with organic refractory inner mantles and outer mantles of "ices" with each grain containing many thousands of the attogram carbonaceous/large molecule particles embedded in the icy and outer organic fraction.

Key words: comets: general – comets: individual: P/Halley – ISM: dust – ISM: molecules – ISM: abundances

Send offprint requests to: J.M. Greenberg


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© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1998

Online publication: January 8, 1998