Ultraviolet absorption studies of H2O and other species in comet comae with satellite telescope-spectrometers

Peter L. Smith, John H. Black, Michael Oppenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Ultraviolet absorption by H2O and other species in the comae of comets could be detected by studying, with satellite telescope-spectrometers, the occultation of hot stars by comets. Such observations could produce the first direct detection of H2O, the fundamental parent molecule in comet comae, and give measures of molecular level populations. The first instrument suitable for such observations will be the High Resolution Spectrograph on Space Telescope and, therefore, we consider its capabilities. We have used a Haser model to estimate the molecular column densities and to predict equivalent widths for lines of H2O, OH, CO, and O as functions of time and angular distance from a comet with a high H2O production rate. We have determined the minimum detectable equivalent widths, and therefore, the maximum angular separation from such a comet at which H2O, OH, and CO could be studied. A conservative, statistical estimate shows that comets with high water production rates should pass near enough to about 10 to 100 stars suitable for absorption studies of the CX band of H2O (1240 Å). Estimated equivalent widths for CO, OH, and the resonance lines of C and O indicate that these species may also be detected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-448
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1981
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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