Cometary Science Newsletter

January 2022
Michael S. P. Kelley (

Refereed Articles

Abstracts of articles in press or recently published. Limited to 3000 characters.

Comet fragmentation as a source of the zodiacal cloud

  • Rigley, J. K. 1
  • Wyatt, M. C. 1
  1. Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

Models of the zodiacal cloud's thermal emission and sporadic meteoroids suggest Jupiter-family comets (JFCs) as the dominant source of interplanetary dust. However, comet sublimation is insufficient to sustain the quantity of dust presently in the inner Solar system, suggesting that spontaneous disruptions of JFCs may supply the zodiacal cloud. We present a model for the dust produced in comet fragmentations and its evolution. Using results from dynamical simulations, the model follows individual comets drawn from a size distribution as they evolve and undergo recurrent splitting events. The resulting dust is followed with a kinetic model which accounts for the effects of collisional evolution, Poynting-Robertson drag, and radiation pressure. This allows to model the evolution of both the size distribution and radial profile of dust, and we demonstrate the importance of including collisions (both as a source and sink of dust) in zodiacal cloud models. With physically motivated free parameters this model provides a good fit to zodiacal cloud observables, supporting comet fragmentation as the plausibly dominant dust source. The model implies that dust in the present zodiacal cloud likely originated primarily from disruptions of ~50-km comets, since larger comets are ejected before losing all their mass. Thus much of the dust seen today was likely deposited as larger grains ~0.1 Myr in the past. The model also finds the dust level to vary stochastically; e.g. every ~50 Myr large (>100 km) comets with long dynamical lifetimes inside Jupiter cause dust spikes with order of magnitude increases in zodiacal light brightness lasting ~1 Myr. If exozodiacal dust is cometary in origin, our model suggests it should be similarly variable.

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (Published)

DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stab3482 NASA ADS: 2022MNRAS.510..834R arXiv: 2111.14860