HCO+ observations toward comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1): Ion-molecule chemistry and evidence for a volatile secondary source

S. N. Milam, C. Savage, L. M. Ziurys, S. Wyckoff

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14 Scopus citations


Several millimeter-wave transitions of HCO+ have been detected toward comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1) using the Arizona Radio Observatory 12 m telescope. The J = 2 → 1 transition at 178 GHz was observed toward the comet nucleus near perihelion on 1997 March 10 and 20, as well as the J = 3 → 2 transition at 268 GHz on 1997 March 9, with angular resolutions of 36″ and 23″, respectively. These data all show a slight velocity shift (∼1.2 km s-1) from the nominal comet velocity, and the J = 3 → 2 profile is asymmetric with a redshifted wing. These differences likely arise from ion acceleration by the solar wind. A rotational diagram analysis of the data yielded a column density of 1.1 × 1012 cm-2 for HCO+ in Hale-Bopp, which corresponds to an average number density of 36 cm-3. The data taken on March 9 show a second velocity component redshifted by 7.0 ± 0.6 km s-1, which is considerably weaker than the main feature and appears to have a counterpart in the HNC, J = 3 → 2 data, observed within an hour of the HCO+ measurements. The velocity difference between the main and secondary emission lines deprojected onto the extended solar radius vector is ∼10 km s-1 for both HCO+ and HNC, and the weak-to-strong line intensity ratios (∼5%) are identical to within observational errors, suggesting a common high-velocity volatile secondary source. A plausible model that may account for the redshifted velocity components is a comoving, localized debris field of submicron refractory grains accelerated by solar radiation pressure located ∼105-10 6 km from the nucleus. The parent material of the weaker redshifted HNC and HCO+ lines may be predominately complex organic polymers. An examination of the production rates for HCO+ suggests that the reaction H2 + CO+ is likely to be an important route to this ion in the outer coma beyond the collisionopause, where it has its peak abundance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1054-1062
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Nov 10 2004


  • Astrochemistry
  • Comets: individual (Hale-Bopp (C/1995 O1))
  • Line: profiles
  • Molecular data
  • Radio lines: solar system
  • Solar wind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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