Determining the dust environment of an unknown comet for a spacecraft fly-by: The case of ESA's Comet Interceptor mission

Raphael Marschall*, Vladimir Zakharov, Cecilia Tubiana, Michael S. P. Kelley, Carlos Corral van Damme, Colin Snodgrass, Geraint H. Jones, Stavro L. Ivanovski, Frank Postberg, Vincenzo Della Corte, Jean-Baptiste Vincent, Olga Muñoz, Fiorangela La Forgia, Anny-Chantal Levasseur-Regourd, the Comet Interceptor Team

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a statistical approach to assess the dust environment for a yet unknown comet (or when its parameters are known only with large uncertainty). This is of particular importance for missions such as ESA's Comet Interceptor mission to a dynamically new comet.
We find that the lack of knowledge of any particular comet results in very large uncertainties (~3 orders of magnitude) for the dust densities within the coma. The most sensitive parameters affecting the dust densities are the dust size distribution, the dust production rate and coma brightness, often quantified by Afρ. Further, the conversion of a coma's brightness (Afρ) to a dust production rate is poorly constrained. The dust production rate can only be estimated down to an uncertainty of ~0.5 orders of magnitude if the dust size distribution is known in addition to the Afρ.
To accurately predict the dust environment of a poorly known comet, a statistical approach as we propose here needs to be taken to properly reflect the uncertainties. This can be done by calculating an ensemble of comae covering all possible combinations within parameter space as shown in this work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Aug 2022


  • astro-ph.EP
  • astro-ph.IM


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