Journal Article

Cometary masses derived from non-gravitational forces

Andrea Sosa and Julio A. Fernández

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 393, issue 1, pages 192-214
Published in print February 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online January 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Cometary masses derived from non-gravitational forces

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We compute masses and densities for 10 periodic comets with known sizes: 1P/Halley, 2P/Encke, 6P/d'Arrest, 9P/Tempel 1, 10P/Tempel 2, 19P/Borrelly, 22P/Kopff, 46P/Wirtanen, 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and 81P/Wild 2. The method follows the one developed by Rickman and colleagues, which is based on the gas production curve and on the change in the orbital period due to the non-gravitational force. The gas production curve is inferred from the visual light curve. We found that the computed masses cover more than three orders of magnitude: ≃(0.3–400) × 1012 kg. The computed densities are in all cases very low (≲0.8 g cm−3), with an average value of 0.4 g cm−3, in agreement with previous results and models of the cometary nucleus depicting it as a very porous object. The computed comet densities turn out to be the lowest among the different populations of Solar system minor bodies, in particular as compared to those of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). We conclude that the model applied in this paper, in spite of its simplicity (as compared to more sophisticated thermophysical models applied to very few comets), is useful for a statistical approach to the mean density of the cometary nuclei. However, we cannot assess from this simple model if there is a real dispersion among the bulk densities of comets that could tell us about differences in physical structure (porosity) and/or chemical composition.

Keywords: techniques: photometric; comets: general

Journal Article.  15940 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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