Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 – 24 September 2021
Europlanet Science Congress 2021
Virtual meeting
13 September – 24 September 2021
EPSC Abstracts
Vol. 15, EPSC2021-681, 2021
European Planetary Science Congress 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The cometary matter between volatiles and macromolecules

Nora Hänni1, Kathrin Altwegg1, Daniel Müller1, Boris Pestoni1, Martin Rubin1, and Susanne Wampfler2
Nora Hänni et al.
  • 1Physikalisches Institut, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland (
  • 2Center for Space and Habiatability, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Small and volatile molecules are the most abundant constituents of a comet’s neutral coma. Thanks to ESA’s Rosetta mission, the neutral coma of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P hereafter) has been analyzed in great spatial and temporal detail, e.g., by Rubin et al. (2019) or by Läuter et al. (2020). However, the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS) – part of the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA; Balsiger et al. 2007) – delivered data which contains information about the transition region between volatiles and macromolecular matter. Manual fitting of individual spectra allows to resolve pure hydrocarbon from heteroatom-bearing species also in the higher mass-range of the instrument, up to mass-to-charge (m/z) ratios of 140.

While Altwegg et al. (2019) have reported tentative detections of some heavier species like benzoic acid or naphthalene, spectra of m/z>70 have not been investigated systematically. Here, we will present preliminary results from the first comprehensive analysis of a full data set (from m/z=12 to m/z=140) collected on August 3, 2015. On this day, the comet was close to its perihelion and the dust activity, as seen by the OSIRIS camera (Vincent et al. 2016), was high. Probably due to sublimation of molecules from ejected and heated-up dust grains, ROSINA/DFMS registered many signals above m/z=70. Due to the problem of isomerism and the lack of reference data, we chose to follow a statistical approach for our analysis. Larger species tend to expose a lower degree of saturation and the H/C ratio seems to approach that of highly unsaturated insoluble organic matter (IOM), cf., e.g., Sandford 2008. Although we cannot identify individual molecules in the complex gas mixture that makes up for the cometary coma, we are able to characterize for the first time the larger organic species that bridge the small volatiles and the macromolecular matter observed in 67P’s dust by the Rosetta secondary ion mass spectrometer COSIMA (Fray et al. 2016).




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How to cite: Hänni, N., Altwegg, K., Müller, D., Pestoni, B., Rubin, M., and Wampfler, S.: The cometary matter between volatiles and macromolecules, European Planetary Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-681,, 2021.