Physical properties of Jupiter-family comets and KBOs from ground-based lightcurve observations

Rosita Kokotanekova, Colin Snodgrass, Pedro Lacerda, Simon F. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Rotational lightcurves are among the most powerful tools to study the physical characteristics of small bodies in the Solar system. They can be used to constrain their spin rates, shapes, densities and compositions. We have developed a method to derive precise lightcurves and phase functions from sparsely sampled data, calibrated using Pan-STARRS stellar magnitudes. We employ this technique to characterize the physical properties of Jupiter Family Comets (JFCs) and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).We provide an updated study of the collective properties of JFCs by increasing the sample of comets with well-studied rotational and surface characteristics. To collect the sample, we reviewed the properties of 35 previously-studied JFCs and added new lightcurves and phase functions for nine JFCs observed between 2004 and 2015.The new extended sample confirms the known cut-off in bulk density at ˜0.6 g cm-3 if JFCs are strengthless. For typical density and elongations, we determined that JFCs require tensile strength of 10-25 Pa to remain stable against rotational instabilities. To provide further constraints on the physical characteristics of JFCs we combine these findings with a study of the activity-induced spin changes of JFCs. Using the newly derived albedos and phase functions, we found that the median linear phase function coefficient for JFCs is 0.046 mag/deg and the median albedo is 4.2 per cent. We found evidence for an increasing linear phase function coefficient with increasing albedo.In an attempt to relate JFCs to their source populations, we compare them to KBOs. We performed a magnitude-limited survey of 40 KBOs, observed with the 3.6-m ESO New Technology Telescope between 2014 and 2017. This is the first survey with a 4m-class telescope conducted in an entirely homogeneous manner (using the same telescope, observing strategy, and data analysis). This program allows us to relate the rotation rates, physical properties and surface characteristics of JFCs and KBOs in order to test the different hypotheses for their formation and subsequent evolution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Astronomical Society, AAS Meeting #231
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2017


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