Production, outflow velocity, and radial distribution of H2O and OH in the coma of comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) from wide-field imaging of OH

Walter M. Harris, Frank Scherb, Edwin Mierkiewicz, Ronald Oliversen, Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Observations of OH are a useful proxy of the water production rate (Q H2O) and outflow velocity (VH2O) in comets. From wide-field images taken on 1997 March 28 and April 8 that capture the entire scale length of the OH coma of comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp), we obtain Q OH from the model-independent method of aperture summation and Q H2O from the OH photochemical branching ratio, BROH. Using an adaptive ring summation algorithm, we extract the radial brightness distribution of OH 0-0 band emission out to cometo-centric distances of up to 106 km, both as azimuthal averages and in quadrants covering different position angles relative to the comet-Sun line. These profiles are fitted using both fixed and variable velocity two-component spherical expansion models to estimate VOH with increasing distance from the nucleus. The OH coma of Hale-Bopp was more spatially extended than those of previous comets, and this extension is best matched by a variable acceleration of H 2O and OH that acted across the entire coma, but was strongest within 1-2 × 104 km from the nucleus. Our models indicate that VOH at the edge of our detectable field of view (106 km) was ∼2-3 times greater in Hale-Bopp than for 1P/Halley class comet at 1 AU, which is consistent with the results of more sophisticated gas-kinetic models, extrapolation from previous observations of OH in comets with QH2O > 1029 s-1, and direct radio measurements of the outer coma Hale-Bopp OH velocity. The likely source of this acceleration is thermalization of the excess energy of dissociation of H2O and OH over an extended collisional coma. When the coma is broken down by quadrants in position angle, we find an azimuthal asymmetry in the radial distribution that is characterized by an increase in the spatial extent of OH in the region between the orbit-trailing and anti-Sunward directions. Model fits specific to this area and comparison with radio OH measurements suggest greater acceleration here, with VOH ∼ 1.5 times greater at a 10 6 km cometocentric distance than elsewhere in the coma. We discuss several mechanisms that may have acted within the coma to produce the observed effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)996-1008
Number of pages13
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Oct 20 2002


  • Comets: individual (Hale-Bopp 1995 O1)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Production, outflow velocity, and radial distribution of H2O and OH in the coma of comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) from wide-field imaging of OH'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this