Determining the dust environment of an unknown comet for a spacecraft flyby: The case of ESA's Comet Interceptor mission

Publication date: 
Main author: 
Marschall, Raphael
IAA authors: 
Muñoz, Olga
Marschall, Raphael;Zakharov, Vladimir;Tubiana, Cecilia;Kelley, Michael S. P.;van Damme, Carlos Corral;Snodgrass, Colin;Jones, Geraint H.;Ivanovski, Stavro L.;Postberg, Frank;Della Corte, Vincenzo;Vincent, Jean-Baptiste;Muñoz, Olga;La Forgia, Fiorangela;Levasseur-Regourd, Anny-Chantal;Comet Interceptor Team
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Publication type: 
Context. An assessment of the dust environment of a comet is needed for data analysis and planning spacecraft missions, such as ESA's Comet Interceptor (CI) mission. The distinctive feature of CI is that the target object will be defined shortly before (or even after) launch; as a result, the properties of the nucleus and dust environment are poorly constrained, and therefore make the assessment of the dust environment challenging. <BR /> Aims: The main goal of the work is to provide realistic estimations of a dust environment based on very general parameters of possible target objects. <BR /> Methods: Contemporary numerical models of a dusty-gas coma were used to obtain spatial distribution of dust for a given set of parameters. By varying parameters within a range of possible values, we obtained an ensemble of possible dust distributions. Then, this ensemble was statistically evaluated in order to define the most probable cases and hence reduce the dispersion. This ensemble can not only be used to estimate the likely dust abundance along a flyby trajectory of a spacecraft, for example, but also to quantify the associated uncertainty. <BR /> Results: We present a methodology of the dust environment assessment for the case when the target comet is not known beforehand (or when its parameters are known with large uncertainty). We provide an assessment of dust environment for the CI mission. We find that the lack of knowledge of any particular comet results in very large uncertainties (~3 orders of magnitude) for the dust densities within the coma. The most sensitive parameters affecting the dust densities are the dust size distribution, the dust production rate, and coma brightness, often quantified by Afρ. Further, the conversion of a coma's brightness (Afρ) to a dust production rate is poorly constrained. The dust production rate can only be estimated down to an uncertainty of ~0.5 orders of magnitude if the dust size distribution is known in addition to the Afρ. <BR /> Conclusions: To accurately predict the dust environment of a poorly known comet, a statistical approach needs to be taken to properly reflect the uncertainties. This can be done by calculating an ensemble of comae covering all possible combinations within parameter space as shown in this work.
ADS Bibcode: 
comets: general;acceleration of particles;Astrophysics - Earth and Planetary Astrophysics;Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics