Interception of comet Hyakutake's ion tail at a distance of 500 million kilometres.

Academic Article


  • Remote sensing observations and the direct sampling of material from a few comets have established the characteristic composition of cometary gas. This gas is ionized by solar ultraviolet radiation and the solar wind to form 'pick-up' ions, ions in a low ionization state that retain the same compositional signatures as the original gas. The pick-up ions are carried outward by the solar wind, and they could in principle be detected far from the coma (Sampling of pick-up ions has also been used to study interplanetary dust, Venus' tail and the interstellar medium.) Here we report the serendipitous detection of cometary pick-up ions, most probably associated with the tail of comet Hyakutake, at a distance of 3.4 AU from the nucleus. Previous observations have provided a wealth of physical and chemical information about a small sample of comets, but this detection suggests that remote sampling of comet compositions, and the discovery of otherwise invisible comets, may be possible.
  • Authors

  • Gloeckler, G
  • Geiss, J
  • Schwadron, Nathan
  • Fisk, LA
  • Zurbuchen, TH
  • Ipavich, FM
  • von Steiger R
  • Balsiger, H
  • Wilken, B
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • April 6, 2000
  • Published In

  • Nature  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 10766234
  • Start Page

  • 576
  • End Page

  • 578
  • Volume

  • 404
  • Issue

  • 6778