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Thermal modeling of cometary nuclei

January 1, 1981

A new model of the sublimation of volatile ices from a cometary nucleus has been developed which includes the effects of diurnal heating and cooling, rotation period and pole orientation, and thermal properties of the ice and subsurface layers. The model also includes the contribution from coma opacity, scattering, and thermal emission, where the properties of the coma are derived from the integrated rate of volatile production by the nucleus. The model is applied to the specific case of the 1986 apparition of Halley's comet. It is found that the generation of a cometary dust coma actually increases the total energy reaching the Halley nucleus. This results because of the significantly greater geometrical cross section of the coma as compared with the bare nucleus, and because the coma provides an essentially isotropic source of multiply scattered sunlight and thermal emission over the entire nucleus surface. For Halley, the calculated coma opacity is approximately 0.2 at 1 AU from the Sun, and 1.2 at perihelion (0.587 AU). At 1 AU this has little effect on dayside temperatures (maximum ≈200°K) but raises nightside temperatures (minimum ≈150°K) by about 40°K. At perihelion the higher opacity results in a nearly isothermal nucleus with only small diurnal and latitudinal temperature variations. The general surface temperature is 205°K with a maximum of 209°K at local noon on the equator. Some possible consequences of the results with respect to the generation of nongravitational forces, observed volatile production rates for comets, and cometary lifetimes against sublimation are discussed.

Publication Year 1981
Title Thermal modeling of cometary nuclei
DOI 10.1016/0019-1035(81)90177-9
Authors P.R. Weissman, H. H. Kieffer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Icarus
Index ID 70011739
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse