Activity of most comets near the Sun is dominated by sublimation of frozen water, the most abundant ice in comets. Some comets, however, are active well beyond the water-ice sublimation limit of ~3 AU. Three bodies dominate the observational record and modeling efforts for distantly active comets: the long-period comet C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp and the short-period comets (with Centaur orbits) 29P/Schwassmann Wachmann 1 and 2060 Chiron. We summarize what is known about these three objects emphasizing their gaseous comae. We calculate their CN/CO and CO2/CO production rate ratios from the literature and discuss implications. Using our own data we derive CO production rates for all three objects, in order to examine a correlation between gas production and different orbital histories and/or size. We find that orbital history does not appear to play a significant role in explaining 29P’s CO production rates. 29P outproduces Hale-Bopp at the same heliocentric distance, even though it has been subjected to much more solar heating. Previous modeling work on such objects predicts that 29P should have been de-volatilized over a fresher comet like Hale-Bopp. This may point to 29P having a different orbital history than current models predict, with its current orbit acquired more recently. On the other hand, Chiron’s CO measurements are consistent with it being significantly depleted over its original state, perhaps due to increased radiogenic heating made possible by its much larger size or its higher processing due to orbital history. Observed spectral line profiles are consistent with development and sublimation of icy grains at about 5-6 AU for 29P and Hale-Bopp, and this is probably a common feature in distantly active comets, and an important source of volatiles for all comets within 5 AU. In contrast, the narrow CO line profiles indicate a nuclear, and not extended, origin for CO beyond ~4 AU.
M. Womack, G. Sarid and K. Wierzchos
Wed, 2 Nov 16
Comments: 69 pages, 4 figures, 5 tables; Accepted for publication in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific