Formation of ions and radicals from icy grains in comets


Ion and radical formation in comets are thought to occur primarily by photodissociation of gas phase molecules. Experimental evidence and theoretical calculations are presented that show that some of the radical and ions can come directly from ice grains. The experimental evidence suggest that if the frozen molecules on the surface of grains undergo direct dissociation then they may be able to release radicals directly in the gas phase. If the molecules undergo predissociation it is unlikely that they will release radicals in the gas phase since they should be quenched. Calculations of this direct photodissociation mechanism further indicate that even if the parent molecule undergoes direct dissociation, the yield will not be high enough to explain the rays structure in comets unless the radicals are stored in the grains and then released when the grain evaporates. Calculations were also performed to determine the maximum number of ions that can be stored in an icy grain's radius. This number is compared with the ratio of the ion to neutral molecular density. The comparison suggests that some of the ions observed near the nucleus of the comet could have originally been present in the cometary nucleus. It is also pointed out that the presence of these ions in icy grains could lead to radical formation via electron recombination. Finally, an avalanche process was evaluated as another means of producing ions in comets

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