Indexed on: 01 Sep '97Published on: 01 Sep '97Published in: Earth, Moon, and Planets
Infrared observations of comets C/1996 B2 (Hyakutake) and C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) benefited from the high spectral resolution and sensitivity of échelle spectrometers now equipping ground-based telescopes and from the availability of the Infrared Space Observatory (ISO).From the ground, several hydrocarbons were unambiguously detected for the first time: CH4, C2H2, C2H6. Water was observed through several of its hot vibrational bands, escaping telluric absorption. CO, HCN, NH3 and OCS were also observed, as well as several radicals. This permitted the evaluation of molecular production rates, of rotational temperature, and — taking advantage of the 1-D imaging of long-slit spectroscopy — of the space distribution of these species. With ISO, carbon dioxide was directly observed for the second time in a comet (after its detection from the Vega probes in P/Halley). The spectrum of water was investigated in detail (several bands of vibration and far-infrared rotational lines), permitting the evaluation of the rotational temperature of water, and of it spin temperature from the ortho-to-para ratio. Water ice was identified in the grains of Hale-Bopp as far as 7 AU from the ground and possibly at 3 AU with ISO. The composition of cometary volatiles appears to be strikingly similar to that of interstellar ices.