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Vaporization of comet nuclei: Light curves and life times

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Abstract

We have examined the effects of vaporization from the nucleus of a comet and show that a latitude dependence of vaporization can, in some cases, explain asymmetries in cometary light curves. We also find that a non-uniform distribution of solar radiation over a comet can considerably shorten the vaporization lifetime compared to the results normally obtained by assuming that the nuclear surface is isothermal.

Independent of any latitude effects, comets with CO2-dominated nuclei and with perihelion distances less than 0.5 AU have vaporization lifetimes less than or comparable to their dynamical ejection times. This may explain the observed deficit of comets with small perihelion distances. Similarly comets with CO2-dominated nuclei and perihelia near Jupiter's orbit have vaporization lifetimes that are shorter than the time for capture into short-period orbits. We suggest, therefore, that at least some new comets are composed in large part of CO2, while only H2O-dominated comets, with lower vaporization rates, can survive to be captured into short-period orbits.

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Cowan, J.J., A'Hearn, M.F. Vaporization of comet nuclei: Light curves and life times. The Moon and the Planets 21, 155–171 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00897085

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Keywords

  • Radiation
  • Solar Radiation
  • Life Time
  • Vaporization Rate
  • Light Curve