Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Comet Nuclei Outgas

Relating in situ gas measurements to the surface outgassing properties of cometary nuclei


Finklenburg et al


The sensitivity of the gas flow field to changes in different initial conditions has been studied for the case of a highly simplified cometary nucleus model. The nucleus model simulated a homogeneously outgassing sphere with a more active ring around an axis of symmetry. The varied initial conditions were the number density of the homogeneous region, the surface temperature, and the composition of the flow (varying amounts of H2O and CO2) from the active ring.

The sensitivity analysis was performed using the Polynomial Chaos Expansion (PCE) method. Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) was used for the flow, thereby allowing strong deviations from local thermal equilibrium. The PCE approach can be used to produce a sensitivity analysis with only four runs per modified input parameter and allows one to study and quantify non-linear responses of measurable parameters to linear changes in the input over a wide range.Hence the PCE allows one to obtain a functional relationship between the flow field properties at every point in the inner coma and the input conditions. It is for example shown that the velocity and the temperature of the background gas are not simply linear functions of the initial number density at the source.

As probably expected, the main influence on the resulting flow field parameteris the corresponding initial parameter (i.e. the initial number density determines the background number density, the temperature of the surface determines the flow field temperature, etc.). However, the velocity of the flowfield is also influenced by the surface temperature while the number density is not sensitive to the surface temperature at all in our model set-up. Another example is the change in the composition of the flow over the active area. Such changes can be seen in the velocity but again not in the number density.

Although this study uses only a simple test case, we suggest that the approach, when applied to a real case in 3D, should assist in identifying the sensitivity of gas parameters measured in situ by, for example, the Rosetta spacecraft to the surface boundary conditions and vice versa.

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