, Volume 79, Issue 1-3, pp 209-220

Sodium In Comets

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Abstract

A great deal of attention has been given to the production and spatial distribution of sodium in comets after the discovery of the sodium tail, by Cremonese et al. (1997a), on Hale-Bopp. The sodium has been observed in several comets in the past, but the Hale-Bopp represent the first time where it will be deeply analyzed considering the several data and scientists working on that. The sodium tail stimulated different studies trying to explain the mechanism source and provided the new lifetime for photoionization of the neutral sodium atom. We took into account other sodium observations performed in this century and we focalized our attention to comet Hale-Bopp to understand the main sources responsible for the sodium features observed.

We analyzed the sodium tail observations performed by Cremonese et al. (1997b) and Wilson et al. (1998) finding that the Hale-Bopp had four different tails. The wide field images and the high resolution spectroscopy performed along the sodium tail provided very important clues to distinguish the two sodium tails observed and their possible sources. Considering most of the data reported in several papers has been possible to draw a real sketch on what has occurred to the comet during March and April 1997. We are going to demonstrate that the sodium tail observed by Wilson et al. (1998) was not the same reportedby Cremonese et al. (1997a) and in the images taken by the European Hale-Bopp Team there were two distinct sodium tails. The observations allowed us to define “narrow sodium tail” the tail reported by Cremonese et al. (1997a), and “diffuse sodium tail” the tail overimposed to the dust tail. We suggest that the narrow sodium tail was due to a molecular process instead of the diffuse one due to the release of sodium atoms by the dust particles. Such a conclusion is supported by the spatial distribution of sodium on the nucleus and in the coma as reported from other authors.