Title

Chemical processing in the coma as the source of cometary HNC

Publication Date

1998

Journal or Book Title

NATURE

Abstract

The discovery of hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) in comet Hyakutake with an abundance (relative to hydrogen cyanide, HCN) similar to that seen in dense interstellar clouds raised the possibility that these molecules might be surviving interstellar material1. The preservation of material from the Sun's parent molecular cloud would provide important constraints on the processes that took place in the protostellar nebula. But another possibility is that HNC is produced by photochemical processes in the coma, which means that its abundance could not be used as a direct constraint on conditions in the early Solar System. Here we show that the HNC/HCN ratio determined for comet Hale–Bopp varied with heliocentric distance in a way that matches the predictions of models of gas-phase chemical production of HNC in the coma, but cannot be explained if the HNC molecules were coming from the comet's nucleus. We conclude that HNC forms mainly by chemical reactions in the coma, and that such reactions need to be considered when attempting to deduce the composition of the nucleus from observations of the coma.

Comments

The published version is located at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v393/n6685/full/393547a0.html

Volume

393

Pages

547-550

Issue

6685

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