Thermal Properties, Size Distribution, and Albedo Distribution of Jupiter-Family Comets

Yanga R. Fernandez, M. S. Kelley, P. L. Lamy, I. Toth, O. Groussin, C. M. Lisse, M. F. A'Hearn, J. M. Bauer, H. Campins, A. Fitzsimmons, J. Licandro, S. C. Lowry, K. J. Meech, J. Pittichova, W. T. Reach, H. A. Weaver

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


We present results from SEPPCoN (Survey of Ensemble Physical Properties of Cometary Nuclei), a survey of 100 Jupiter-family comets (JFCs) using the Spitzer Space Telescope for mid-infrared measurements of thermal emission and several ground-based telescopes for visible-wavelength measurements of reflected sunlight. Our sample represents about 30% of all known JFCs. The Spitzer observations are complete, and each comet was observed at either two wavelengths (16 and 22 μm) or at one wavelength twice (24 μm). Our survey constrains the effective radii of the JFC nuclei and thence the size distribution while only assuming that cometary geometric albedos are low (few percent); we need not assume that they are all the same. Also, nearly all survey targets were observed when farther than 4 AU from the Sun to minimize (and in most cases eliminate) coma confusion. Using the observations of comets at two wavelengths, and using the Near-Earth Asteroid Thermal Model, we have estimated the JFC ensemble-average beaming parameter to be about 1.1. On average, cometary nuclei seem to have low thermal inertia and not have significant infrared beaming, although we do find that some of our survey targets have significantly higher parameters and thus likely higher thermal inertia. Analysis on the cumulative size distribution continues and we present our preliminary estimate of its shape, as well as the implications for the assumption of uniform albedo and for the extent of the small-comet (sub-km) population. So far we have obtained visible magnitudes on almost half of our targets; we plan to complete this part of the survey in the coming years. With these data we will constrain the JFC albedo distribution and again address the question of albedo uniformity; current progress on this task is reported as well. We thank the Spitzer Science Center for supporting this research.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2007

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