Comet 17P/Holmes: Possibility of a CO driven explosion

Kossacki K.J., Szutowicz S.


212 (2), 2011, 847-857, 10.1016/j.icarus.2011.01.007

This work is a continuation of our previous paper about brightening of Comet 17P/Holmes (Kossacki, K.J., Szutowicz, S. [2010]. Icarus 207, 320–340). In that paper we presented results of simulations indicating that the nonuniform crystallization of amorphous water ice itself is probably not sufficient for an explosion. In the present work we investigate the possibility that the explosion is caused by a rapid sublimation of the CO ice leading to the rise of gas pressure above the tensile strength of the nucleus. We simulated evolution of a model nucleus in the orbit of Comet 17P/Holmes. The nucleus is composed of water ice, carbon monoxide ice and dust and has the shape of an elongated ellipsoid. The simulations include crystallization of amorphous ice in the nucleus, changes of the dust mantle thickness, and sublimation of the CO ice. In our model CO is mantling grains composed of dust and amorphous water ice. Orientation of the nuclear spin axis in space is the same as derived in Moreno et al. (Moreno, F., Ortiz, J.L., Santos-Sanz, P., Morales, N., Vidal-Nunez, M.J., Lara, L.M., Gutierrez, P.J. [2008]. Astrophys. J. 677, L63–L66) for Comet Holmes during recent brightening event. Hence, the angle between the orbital and the equatorial planes of the comet is I = 95°, and the cometocentric solar longitude at perihelion is Φ = 210°. The calculations are performed for the south pole being the sub-solar point close to time of the outburst. Our computations indicate, that the CO pressure within the comet nucleus can rise to high values. When the layer between the dust mantle and the crystallization front of the amorphous water ice is very fine grained, few microns in radius, the CO pressure within the nucleus can exceed 10 kPa. This value is the lowest estimate for the tensile strength of the nucleus of Comet Holmes (Reach, W.T., Vaubaillon, J., Lisse, C.M., Holloway, M., Rho, J. [2010]. Icarus 208, 276–292). Hence, when the gas pressure reaches this value the nucleus may explode.