Gas and dust productions of comet 103P/Hartley 2 from millimetre observations: interpreting rotation-induced time variations

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 made a close approach to the Earth in October 2010. It was the target of an extensive observing campaign and was visited by the Deep Impact spacecraft (mission EPOXI). We present observations of HCN and CH3OH emission lines conducted with the IRAM Plateau de Bure interferometer on 22-23, 28 October and 4, 5 November 2010 at 1.1, 1.9 and 3.4 mm wavelengths. The thermal emission from the dust coma and nucleus is detected simultaneously. Interferometric images with unprecedented spatial resolution are obtained. A sine-wave variation of the thermal continuum is observed in the 23 October data, that we associate with the nucleus thermal light curve. The nucleus contributes up to 30-55 % of the observed continuum. The large dust-to-gas ratio (in the range 2-6) can be explained by the unusual activity of the comet for its size, which allows decimeter size particles and large boulders to be entrained by the gas. The rotational temperature of CH3OH is measured. We attribute the increase from 35 to 46 K with increasing beam size (from 150 to 1500 km) to radiative processes. The HCN production rate displays strong rotation-induced variations. The HCN production curve, as well as those of CO2 and H2O measured by EPOXI, are interpreted with a geometric model which takes into account the rotation and the shape of the comet. The HCN and H2O production curves are in phase, showing common sources. The 1.7h delay, in average, of HCN and H2O with respect to the CO2 production curve suggests that HCN and H2O are mainly produced by subliming icy grains. The scale length of production of HCN is determined to be on the order of 500-1000 km, implying a mean velocity of 100-200 m/s for the icy grains producing HCN. The modulation of the CO2 prouction and of the velocity offset of the HCN lines are interpreted in terms of localized sources of gas on the nucleus surface.

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Date added: Fri, 11 Oct 13