Observations of HCN in comet P/Halley

  • F. P. Schloerb
  • W. M. Kinzel
  • D. A. Swade
  • W. M. Irvine
Conference paper


We present observations of the HCN J = 1−0 rotational transition at 3.4 mm wavelength in comet P/Halley. The data were obtained during a total of 56 individual observing sessions between November 1985 and May 1986 and represent the first time that a cometary parent molecule has been so extensively monitored. The HCN production rate is well correlated with the total visual magnitude of the comet, and comparison of the HCN production to the total gas production of the comet indicates that it is a relatively minor constituent with 0.1% the abundance of H2O. Comparison of HCN and CN production suggests that HCN is a major parent molecule of CN, but probably not the sole parent. HCN spectra obtained by binning the data with heliocentric distance show that the line width, and thus the parent outflow velocity, increases with decreasing heliocentric distance, and that there is a tendency for the lines to be blue shifted due to anisotropic out gassing from the nucleus. Finally, there is evidence of day-to-day time variability in the total HCN emission and in the hyperfine ratios. The time variation of the total emission is consistent with the known time variable behavior of the comet, and detailed comparisons to optical data, where possible, confirm this interpretation. However, non-LTE values of the hyperfine ratios are not consistent with theoretical modeling of the excitation of these transitions.

Key words

comets comet Halley coma molecules 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. P. Schloerb
    • 1
  • W. M. Kinzel
    • 1
  • D. A. Swade
    • 1
  • W. M. Irvine
    • 1
  1. 1.Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory, Lederle GTWR BUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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