The formation of a permanent dust mantle and its effect on cometary activity

Dina Prialnik, Akiva Bar-nun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The growth of a permanent, permeable, dust mantle on the surface of a comet nucleus, composed initially of dusty amorphous water ice, is investigated. Numerical simulations of the evolution of one-dimensional comet nucleus models, in Comet Halley's orbit, are carried out for various parameters, allowing for the crystallization of the amorphous ice. It is assumed that the mantle forms gradually, by the accumulation of a constant fraction (0.001-0.01) of the dust, which is not carried away with the sublimating ice. It is found that an ∼1-cm-thick dust mantle diminishes the average sublimation rate by a factor of ∼5, and a further growth of the dust mantle may decrease the surface activity of the nucleus by another factor of 10. Therefore, the activity of a dust-covered nucleus is expected to result mainly from exposed patches of ice and from craters, such as were observed on Comet Halley by Giotto. These are formed by explosions of gas-filled pockets in the crystalline outer layer of the nucleus. The insulating effect of the dust mantle causes the crystallization of the amorphous ice to proceed at a slower rate than in the case of a bare icy nucleus. Thus, the thickness of the outer crystalline shell, overlying the amorphous ice core, is always greater than 15 m, but does not exceed a few tens of meters. This size range is compatible with the amount of gas released in the numerous small explosions which were observed on Comet Halley.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-283
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1988


Dive into the research topics of 'The formation of a permanent dust mantle and its effect on cometary activity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this