The Dual Origin Of The Nitrogen Deficiency In Comets: Selective Volatile Trapping In The Nebula And Postaccretion Radiogenic Heating
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We propose a scenario that explains the apparent nitrogen deficiency in comets in away that is consistent with the fact that the surfaces of Pluto and Triton are dominated by nitrogen-rich ice. We use a statistical thermodynamic model to investigate the composition of the successive multiple guest clathrates that may have formed during the cooling of the primordial nebula from the most abundant volatiles present in the gas phase. These clathrates agglomerated with the other ices (pure condensates or stoichiometric hydrates) and formed the building blocks of comets. We report that molecular nitrogen is a poor clathrate former, when we consider a plausible gas-phase composition of the primordial nebula. This implies that its trapping into cometesimals requires a low disk temperature (similar to 20 K) in order to allow the formation of its pure condensate. We find that it is possible to explain the lack of molecular nitrogen in comets as a consequence of their postformation internal heating engendered by the decay of short-lived radiogenic nuclides. This scenario is found to be consistent with the presence of nitrogen-rich ice covers on Pluto and Triton. Our model predicts that comets should present xenon-to-water and krypton-to-water ratios close to solar xenon-to-oxygen and krypton-to-oxygen ratios, respectively. In contrast, the argon-to-water ratio is predicted to be depleted by a factor of similar to 300 in comets compared to solar argon-to-oxygen, as a consequence of poor trapping efficiency and radiogenic heating.