CSI papers published: Noble Gas Abundance Ratios of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Illustration of the formation conditions of ice grains precursors of 67P/C-G beyond the ice line

Noble Gas Abundance Ratios of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

by O. Mousis, T. Ronnet, and CSI member J. I. Lunine, and co-authors published a new study on the origin of cometary volatiles in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Volume 865, Number 1 (email: jlunine@astro.cornell.edu)

Abstract: The origin of cometary volatiles remains a major open question in planetary science. Comets may have either agglomerated from crystalline ices condensed in the protosolar nebula (PSN) or from amorphous ice originating from the molecular cloud and interstellar medium. Here, based on the recent argon, krypton, and xenon measurements performed by the ROSINA mass spectrometer on board the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft in the coma of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, we show that these noble gas relative abundances can be explained if the comet’s building blocks formed from a mixture of gas and H2O grains resulting from the annealing of pristine amorphous ice (i.e., originating from the presolar cloud) in the PSN. In this scenario, the different volatiles released during the amorphous-to-crystalline ice phase transition would have been subsequently trapped at lower temperatures in stoichiometric hydrate or clathrate hydrate forms by the crystalline water ice generated by the transition. Once crystalline water was completely consumed by clathration in the ~25–80 K temperature range, the volatile species remaining in the gas phase would have formed pure condensates at lower temperatures. The formation of clathrates hydrates and pure condensates to explain the noble gas relative abundances is consistent with a proposed interstellar origin of molecular oxygen detected in 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and with the measured molecular nitrogen depletion in comets.

Jonathan Lunine, Astronomy & Planetary Science