, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 88–91 | Cite as

Xenomict energy in cold solids in space

  • Russell SeitzEmail author
  • John C. Raymond
  • Jochen Kissel
  • Michail I. Petaev
Short Communication


Minerals on earth whose crystalline order has been reduced by radioactive decay of contained atoms are termed “metamict.” They are rare and few because in most crystalline solids, atoms and vacancies are relatively mobile at terrestrial temperatures, and radiation damage tends to be self-annealing. This is not the case in the extreme cold of deep space. Below roughly 100 K, reduced vacancy mobility allows cosmic ray and solar wind induced lattice defects to endure and accumulate for eons, reaching energy densities of up to MJ kg−1 in some materials. We examine the possible effects of the release of energy stored in cold deep-space materials when solid-state defects recombine upon warming due to impacts, gravitational infall, or perihelion. Dimensional analysis suggests energetic defect recombination in radiation-damaged “xenomict” solids in comets, and planetesimals may, in some circumstances, raise internal temperatures enough to melt ice and volatilize frozen gases. We speculate that this may account for some cometary outbursts and Deep Impact experiment results. Calorimetric experiments on appropriately irradiated natural and synthetic materials are needed to further quantify these mechanisms.


Solar Wind Carbonaceous Material Cometary Nucleus Lunar Regolith Pyrroloquinoline Quinone 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



R.S. acknowledges support from The Kurzweil Foundation. J.C.R. and M.I.P. appreciate partial support from NASA grants NAG5-12814 and NNG05GI66G to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. R.S. thanks NASA for the excellent fireworks preceding Dr. Frederick Seitz’ 95th birthday.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Russell Seitz
    • 1
    Email author
  • John C. Raymond
    • 2
  • Jochen Kissel
    • 3
  • Michail I. Petaev
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.CambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Harvard-Smithsonian Center for AstrophysicsCambridgeUSA
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Solar System ResearchKatlenburg-LindauGermany
  4. 4.Department of Earth & Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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