Minerals on earth whose crystalline order has been reduced by radioactive decay of contained atoms are termed “metamict.” They are rare and few because in most crystalline solids, atoms and vacancies are relatively mobile at terrestrial temperatures, and radiation damage tends to be self-annealing. This is not the case in the extreme cold of deep space. Below roughly 100 K, reduced vacancy mobility allows cosmic ray and solar wind induced lattice defects to endure and accumulate for eons, reaching energy densities of up to MJ kg−1 in some materials. We examine the possible effects of the release of energy stored in cold deep-space materials when solid-state defects recombine upon warming due to impacts, gravitational infall, or perihelion. Dimensional analysis suggests energetic defect recombination in radiation-damaged “xenomict” solids in comets, and planetesimals may, in some circumstances, raise internal temperatures enough to melt ice and volatilize frozen gases. We speculate that this may account for some cometary outbursts and Deep Impact experiment results. Calorimetric experiments on appropriately irradiated natural and synthetic materials are needed to further quantify these mechanisms.
Naturwissenschaften – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 1, 2006
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