Swift X-ray telescope observations of the deep impact collision

R. Wlllingale, P. T. O'Brien, S. W.H. Cowley, G. H. Jones, D. J. McComas, K. O. Mason, J. P. Osborne, A. Wells, M. Chester, S. Hunsberger, D. N. Burrows, N. Gehrels, J. A. Nousek, L. Angelini, L. R. Cominsky, S. L. Snowden, G. Chincarini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Comet 9P/Tempel 1 was observed by the Swift X-Ray Telescope (XRT) for a total of 250,024s. Soft X-ray emission, 0.2-1.0 keV, was seen as a diffuse extended halo with an FWHM of 1.03 × 105 km centered on the comet's nucleus. The X-ray light curve indicates that the comet exhibited a prolonged soft X-ray outburst just after impact of the NASA Deep Impact (DI) spacecraft and enhanced X-ray activity lasted for 12 days. The radial brightness distribution and X-ray spectrum are in excellent agreement with a model of X-ray production in which highly charged minor heavy ion species in the solar wind undergo charge exchange reactions with water group or carbon dioxide group molecules in the neutral coma of the comet. Using this model, we derive a simple expression for the X-ray emission and show that the X-ray flare is, in part, due to an increase in solar wind flux at the comet but is largely due to an enhanced molecule production rate. Assuming that the main outgassing constituent was water, the comet produced (2.9 ±0.4) × 108 kg over the 12 day period postimpact. The quiescent water production was expected to inject ∼1.0 × 108 kg into the coma over the same period so the observed X-ray flux indicates that an additional (1.9 ± 0.4) × 108 kg of water or, alternatively, (3.9 ± 0.5) × 10 8 kg of carbon dioxide were liberated by the DI impact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-552
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 20 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Comets: general
  • Comets: individual (9P/Tempel 1)


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