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The Role of Subsurface Dynamics in Comet Outbursts

Presentation #322.16 in the session Comets (Poster)

Published onOct 23, 2023
The Role of Subsurface Dynamics in Comet Outbursts

Comets, the enduring relics from our solar system’s early days, occasionally display mysterious outbursts, which have a close connection to the physical structure of their nucleus. Unraveling these outbursts is the focus of our current research, which is leveraging advanced modeling techniques. We are specifically investigating the interaction between the complex porous structure of the comet nucleus and the movement of gas within it. This ongoing work is a concerted effort to provide a comprehensive model of cometary outbursts. Our ongoing work strives to unravel the mechanisms behind these elusive comet outbursts, enhancing our understanding of the early solar system, and offering valuable insights for future cometary exploration. While our research is steadily advancing, the picture is not yet complete. Nevertheless, the initial results from the integration of these advanced mathematical and physical principles are promising and pave the way for further exciting developments.

At the heart of our approach lies the use of the Bower-Watson algorithm and Voronoi diagrams. These tools are well-suited to represent the complex, multifaceted, and porous nature of the comet nucleus, thereby enhancing the accuracy of our simulations of gas movement within these structures.

We are also closely examining the role of heat propagation within the comet’s subsurface and its influence on crystallization dynamics. We are actively incorporating non-linear heat conduction equations and phase change factors into our model. Preliminary results suggest that the additional heat generated during crystallization could push the boundary of crystallization deeper, thus accelerating the evaporation from the subsurface.

An interesting aspect under the current investigation relates to the consequences of increased subsurface evaporation. It appears that this could lead to the formation of a denser, less porous layer of ice on the comet’s surface. This compact layer effectively traps the evaporated gas within the subsurface layers. It is conceivable that over time, this trapped gas could accumulate, creating a build-up of pressure. If this pressure reaches a high enough level, it could cause the overlying ice layer to fracture.

Percolation theory is integral to our ongoing research. We are utilizing this theory to predict the critical point at which the trapped gas would break through the surface, triggering an outburst. The delicate balance between the structural integrity of the ice layer and the gas pressure seems to be a key player in these outbursts, an interaction we are eager to understand better.

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