On Using Solar Radio Emission to Probe Interiors of Asteroids and Comets
Abstract:Asteroids, comets and other primitive solar system bodies are key sources of information on the early solar system, on volatiles and organics delivered to the terrestrial planets, and on processes of planetary formation now observed in operation around other stars. Whether asteroids (in various size classes) are rubble piles or monolithic, and whether any porosity or internal voids contain volatiles, are first-order questions for understanding the delivery of volatiles to the early Earth, and for assessing impact hazards. Information on bulk composition aids discrimination between types and origins of primitive bodies, .e.g., the degree of aqueous alteration and bound-water content of carbonaceous chondrite bodies, and the volatile mass fraction of comets. Radar and radio methods can provide direct information on bulk composition, micro- and macro-porosity, body-scale internal structure, and on whether voids in rocky materials are volatile- or vacuum-filled. Such methods therefore figure prominently in current missions to primitive bodies (e.g., CONSERT) and in a variety of proposed missions. Radio transmitters necessary for conventional methods, however, add considerably to spacecraft mass and power requirements. Moreover, at many wavelengths most useful for radio sounding, powerful radio emission from the Sun strongly interferes with conventional signals.
Here we present initial results from an investigation of how solar radio emission could serve as a natural resource for probing interiors of primitive bodies, rather than as interference. We briefly review methods for using stochastic radio illumination (aka noise radar methods), and illustrate the characteristics of solar radio emission relevant to mission design (e.g., observed intervals between emission events of specified intensity for different points in the solar cycle). We then discuss methods for selecting and interpreting observations in terms of interior properties, for bodies is different size classes (relative to the radio wavelength). Our preliminary results indicate considerable promise, certainly for bodies near 1 AU, and possibly also for bodies farther from the Sun.