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Beyond 3 Au from the Sun: the Hypervolatiles CH4, C2H6, and CO in the Distant Comet C2006 W3 (Christensen)Comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen) remained outside a heliocentric distance (Rh) of 3.1 au throughout its apparition, but it presented an exceptional opportunity to directly sense a suite of molecules released from its nucleus. The Cryogenic Infrared Echelle Spectrograph at ESO-VLT detected infrared emissions from the three hypervolatiles (CO, CH4, and C2H6) that have the lowest sublimation temperatures among species that are commonly studied in comets by remote sensing. Even at Rh 3.25 au, the production rate of each molecule exceeded those measured for the same species in a number of other comets, although these comets were observed much closer to the Sun. Detections of CO at Rh = 3.25, 4.03, and 4.73 au constrained its post-perihelion decrease in production rate, which most likely dominated the outgassing. At 3.25 au, our measured abundances scaled as CO/CH4/C2H6 approx. = 100/4.4/2.1. The C2H6/CH4 ratio falls within the range of previously studied comets at Rh < 2 au, while CO/CH4 is comparatively high and similar to in situ measurements from Rosetta at approx.10 km from the nucleus of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko conducted at a very similar Rh (3.15 au). The independent detections of H2O (Herschel Space Observatory) and CO (this work) imply a coma abundance H2O/CO approx. = 20% in C/2006 W3 near Rh = 5 au. All these measurements are of high value for constraining models of nucleus sublimation (plausibly CO-driven) beyond Rh = 3au, where molecular detections in comets are still especially sparse.
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Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Bonev, Boncho P.
(Catholic Univ. of America Washington, DC, United States)
Villanueva, Geronimo L.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Disanti, Michael A.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Boehnhardt, Hermann
(Max-Planck-Inst. fuer Sonnensystemforschung Lindau, Germany)
Lippi, Manuela
(Max-Planck-Inst. fuer Sonnensystemforschung Lindau, Germany)
Gibb, Erika L.
(Missouri Univ. Saint Louis, MO, United States)
Paganini, Lucas
(Catholic Univ. of America Washington, DC, United States)
Mumma, Michael J.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Date Acquired
July 3, 2017
Publication Date
May 3, 2017
Publication Information
Publication: The Astronomical Journal
Volume: 153
Issue: 5
ISSN: 0004-6256
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