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M. Womack (St. Cloud State Univ.)
Recent observations of the distantly active comets 29 P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1, 2060 Chiron, and C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) are consistent with models that predict that the activity beyond 4 AU is dominated by outgassing of CO and CO2 molecules trapped in an amorphous water ice surface undergoing crystallization. The nominal CO production rates in Hale-Bopp, SW 1 and Chiron over the range of r = 4 to 9 AU are consistent with Q(CO) = (2.9±0.5)x1030r(-2.5 +/- 0.1), with sporadic outbursts superimposed. The data indicate that the gas production rates in distant comets are primarily determined by the composition, and not the size, of the nucleus. The dust production rates, however, are very different among these comets and are not well-correlated with heliocentric distance. Thus, the gas and dust mixtures may not be uniform amongst these comets, nor in an individual comet. Development and sublimation of an icy grain coma at ~ 5 AU appears to be a common feature in distantly active comets. Sublimation of such icy grains is probably the main source of emission of OH, CH3OH, HCN, and H2S in comets beyond 4 AU. Studying the energetics of these phenomena provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about the composition and physical behavior of comet nuclei, as well as other icy bodies in the outer solar system, such as moons and Kuiper Belt Objects.
This work was funded by the NSF CAREER Program.
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