Dual storage and release of molecular oxygen in comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko

Adrienn Luspay-Kuti, Olivier Mousis, Françoise Pauzat, Ozge Ozgurel, Yves Ellinger, Jonathan I. Lunine, Stephen A. Fuselier, Kathleen E. Mandt, Karlheinz J. Trattner & Steven M. Petrinec

Nature Astronomy
Published: 10 March 2022


“One of the biggest surprises of the Rosetta mission was the detection of O2 in the coma of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in remarkably high abundances. The measured levels of O2 in the coma are generally assumed to reflect the overall abundance and chemical origin of cometary O2 in the nucleus. Along with its strong association with H2O and weak association with CO and CO2, these measurements led to the consensus that the source and release of cometary O2 are linked to H2O. We analysed ROSINA observations and found a previously unrecognized change in the correlations of O2 with H2O, CO2 and CO that contradicts the prevailing notion that the release of O2 is linked to H2O at all times. These findings can be explained by the presence of two distinct reservoirs of O2: a pristine source in the deeper nucleus layers dating back to before nucleus formation, and an H2O-trapped secondary reservoir formed during the thermal evolution of the nucleus. These results imply that O2 must have been incorporated into the nucleus in a solid and distinct phase during accretion in significantly lower abundances than previously assumed.”