Forbidden oxygen lines in Comets C/2006 W3 Christensen and C/2007 Q3 Siding Spring at large heliocentric distance: Implications for the sublimation of volatile ices

Adam J. McKay, Nancy J. Chanover, Jeffrey P. Morgenthaler, Anita L. Cochran, Walter M Harris, Neil Dello Russo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Scopus citations


We present observations and analysis of the forbidden oxygen lines in Comets C/2006 W3 (Christensen) and C/2007 Q3 (Siding Spring) at heliocentric distances of 3.13 and 2.96AU, respectively. We obtained the observations using the ARCES echelle spectrometer, which is mounted on the Astrophysical Research Consortium 3.5-m telescope at Apache Point Observatory. We detected the 5577, 6300, and 6364Å atomic oxygen lines in Christensen and we calculated the ratio of the green (5577Å) line flux to that of the red doublet (6300 and 6364Å). We obtained a ratio of 0.24±0.08, a number higher than previous measurements for other comets at smaller heliocentric distance. This shows that CO and/or CO 2 made detectable contributions to the O I population in the coma of Christensen. We only detected the 6300Å line in Siding Spring, resulting in an upper limit for the oxygen line ratio of 0.20. Based on the derived flux for the 6300Å line, we constrain the CO 2 and H 2O production rate in Siding Spring. A comparison of our results at ∼3AU to previous findings for comets at this approximate heliocentric distance suggests that a heliocentric distance of 3AU is a transition region between H 2O and CO 2 dominated activity in comets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes



  • Comets
  • Comets, Coma
  • Comets, Composition
  • Comets, Nucleus
  • Ices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics

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