Local growth of dust- and ice-mixed aggregates as cometary building blocks in the solar nebula

S. Lorek, P. Lacerda, J. Blum

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Context. Comet formation by gravitational instability requires aggregates that trigger the streaming instability and cluster in pebble-clouds. These aggregates form as mixtures of dust and ice from (sub-)micrometre-sized dust and ice grains via coagulation in the solar nebula.

Aim. We investigate the growth of aggregates from (sub-)micrometre-sized dust and ice monomer grains. We are interested in the properties of these aggregates: whether they might trigger the streaming instability, how they compare to pebbles found on comets, and what the implications are for comet formation in collapsing pebble-clouds.

Methods. We used Monte Carlo simulations to study the growth of aggregates through coagulation locally in the comet-forming region at 30 au. We used a collision model that can accommodate sticking, bouncing, fragmentation, and porosity of dust- and ice-mixed aggregates. We compared our results to measurements of pebbles on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Results. We find that aggregate growth becomes limited by radial drift towards the Sun for 1 μm sized monomers and by bouncing collisions for 0.1 μm sized monomers before the aggregates reach a Stokes number that would trigger the streaming instability (Stmin). We argue that in a bouncing-dominated system, aggregates can reach Stmin through compression in bouncing collisions if compression is faster than radial drift. In the comet-forming region (~30 au), aggregates with Stmin have volume-filling factors of ~10−2 and radii of a few millimetres. These sizes are comparable to the sizes of pebbles found on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The porosity of the aggregates formed in the solar nebula would imply that comets formed in pebble-clouds with masses equivalent to planetesimals of the order of 100 km in diameter.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA18
Number of pages18
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2018


  • protoplanetary disks
  • planets and satellites: formation
  • methods: numerical


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