Implications of the Small Spin Changes Measured for Large Jupiter-Family Comet Nuclei

R. Kokotanekova, C. Snodgrass, P. Lacerda, S. F. Green, P. Nikolov, T. Bonev

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Abstract

Rotational spin-up due to outgassing of comet nuclei has been identified as a possible mechanism for considerable mass-loss and splitting. We report a search for spin changes for three large Jupiter-family comets (JFCs): 14P/Wolf, 143P/Kowal-Mrkos, and 162P/Siding Spring. None of the three comets has detectable period changes, and we set conservative upper limits of 4.2 (14P), 6.6 (143P) and 25 (162P) minutes per orbit. Comparing these results with all eight other JFCs with measured rotational changes, we deduce that none of the observed large JFCs experiences significant spin changes. This suggests that large comet nuclei are less likely to undergo rotationally-driven splitting, and therefore more likely to survive more perihelion passages than smaller nuclei. We find supporting evidence for this hypothesis in the cumulative size distributions of JFCs and dormant comets, as well as in recent numerical studies of cometary orbital dynamics. We added 143P to the sample of 13 other JFCs with known albedos and phase-function slopes. This sample shows a possible correlation of increasing phase-function slopes for larger geometric albedos. Partly based on findings from recent space missions to JFCs, we hypothesise that this correlation corresponds to an evolutionary trend for JFCs. We propose that newly activated JFCs have larger albedos and steeper phase functions, which gradually decrease due to sublimation-driven erosion. If confirmed, this could be used to analyse surface erosion from ground and to distinguish between dormant comets and asteroids.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Advance Access
Early online date11 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 11 Jun 2018

Keywords

  • comets: general
  • comets: individual

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