Crystallization of amorphous ice as the cause of comet P/Halley's outburst at 14 AU.

D. Prialnik*, A. Bar-Nun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


The post-perihelion eruption of comet P/Halley, detected in Feb. 1991 and believed to have started 3 months earlier, can be explained by crystallization of amorphous ice taking place in the interior of the porous nucleus, at depths a few tens of meters, accompanied by the release of trapped gases. Numerical calculations show that for a bulk density of 0.5 g cm-3 and a pore size of 1 millimicron crystallization occurs on the outbound leg of comet P/Halley's orbit, at heliocentric distances between 5 AU and 17 AU. The trapped gas is released and flows to the surface through the porous medium. It may also open wider channels, as the internal pressures obtained surpass the tensile strength of cometary ice. The outflowing gas carries with it grains of ice and dust, and thus can explain the large amounts of dust observed in the coma at 14.3 AU and beyond. The typical decline time of the process is found to be on the order of months, in agreement with observations. The rate of outgassing is two or three orders of magnitude higher than in quiescence. In an asymmetric, non-uniform nucleus--in contrast to the one-dimensional spherical model--the process should occur intermittently, such as was observed for comet P/Halley beyond 5 AU.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L9-12
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1992


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