Evidence for Pebbles in Comets

K.A. Kretke, H.F. Levison

In Press, Accepted Manuscript, Available online 20 August 2015

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When the EPOXI spacecraft flew by Comet 103P/Hartley 2, it observed large particles floating around the comet nucleus. These particles are likely low-density, centimeter- to decimeter-sized clumps of ice and dust. While the origin of these objects remains somewhat mysterious, it is possible that they are giving us important information about the earliest stages of our Solar System’s formation. Recent advancements in planet formation theory suggest that planetesimals (or cometestimals) may grow directly from the gravitational collapse of aerodynamically concentrated small particles, often referred to as “pebbles.” Here we show that the particles observed in the coma of 103P are consistent with the sizes of pebbles expected to efficiently form planetesimals in the region that this comet likely formed, while smaller pebbles are may be expected in the majority of comets, whose chemistry is often indicative of formation in the colder, outer regions of the protoplanetary disk.