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Energy balance and the gas flux from the surface of comet 46P/Wirtanen

Energy balance and the gas flux from the surface of comet 46P/Wirtanen

Publication date: 22 November 1998

Authors: Benkhoff, J.

Journal: Planetary and Space Sciences
Volume: 47
Issue: 6-7
Page: pp.735-744
Year: 1998

Copyright: Elsevier Science

Understanding the power balance at the surface of the nucleus is essential to study the chemical and physical evolution of a comet. Therefore, we present a detailed energy budget analysis for the surface of a model comet in the orbit of 46P/Wirtanen, target comet of the European space craft mission Rosetta, for a variety of parameters and assumptions. We will show that for a fast spinning Jupiter-family comet such as 46P/Wirtanen with a rotation period of about 6 h, a fast rotator approximation underestimates the effective energy input. This yields lower gas fluxes from the surface. For an 100% active, non-dust covered surface we obtain a water gas flux on the order of about 1.5×1028 molecules s-1 at perihelion, assuming a radius of 600 m. The calculated gas flux of water is within the order of measured values for comet 46P/Wirtanen. But our calculated values are maximum gas fluxes at noon—not averaged over one cometary day or taking the lesser insolation at the polar areas into account. Therefore, we conclude that either the radius of comet 46P/Wirtanen may be much larger than the accepted value of 600 m. A radius in the order of 2 km seems more likely to explain the measurements. Or, an other possibility could be that water-ice particles are blown off from the surface like dust particles. This may also increase the effective surface area of sublimation.

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