Stability of Sulphur Dimers (S2) in Cometary Ices

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


S2 has been observed for decades in comets, including comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Despite the fact that this molecule appears ubiquitous in these bodies, the nature of its source remains unknown. In this study, we assume that S2 is formed by irradiation (photolysis and/or radiolysis) of S-bearing molecules embedded in the icy grain precursors of comets and that the cosmic ray flux simultaneously creates voids in ices within which the produced molecules can accumulate. We investigate the stability of S2 molecules in such cavities, assuming that the surrounding ice is made of H2S or H2O. We show that the stabilization energy of S2 molecules in such voids is close to that of the H2O ice binding energy, implying that they can only leave the icy matrix when this latter sublimates. Because S2 has a short lifetime in the vapor phase, we derive that its formation in grains via irradiation must occur only in low-density environments such as the ISM or the upper layers of the protosolar nebula, where the local temperature is extremely low. In the first case, comets would have agglomerated from icy grains that remained pristine when entering the nebula. In the second case, comets would have agglomerated from icy grains condensed in the protosolar nebula and that would have been efficiently irradiated during their turbulent transport toward the upper layers of the disk. Both scenarios are found consistent with the presence of molecular oxygen in comets.


  • O. Mousis
  • O. Ozgurel
  • J. I. Lunine
  • A. Luspay-Kuti
  • T. Ronnet
  • F. Pauzat
  • A. Markovits
  • Y. Ellinger
External organisations
  • Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille (LAM)
  • Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University
  • Cornell University
  • Southwest Research Institute (swri), Texas
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology


  • astrobiology, comets: general, comets: individual (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko), methods: numerical, solid state: volatile
Original languageEnglish
Article number134
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Feb 1
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes