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Properties of the Bare Nucleus of Comet 96P/Machholz 1

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  • Nora L. Eisner
  • Matthew M. Knight
  • Colin Snodgrass
  • Michael S. P. Kelley
  • Alan Fitzsimmons
  • Rosita Kokotanekova

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Original languageEnglish
JournalAstronomical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2019


We observed comet 96P/Machholz 1 on a total of 9 nights before and after perihelion during its 2017/2018 apparition. Both its unusually small perihelion distance and the observed fragmentation during multiple apparitions make 96P an object of great interest. Our observations show no evidence of a detectable dust coma, implying that we are observing a bare nucleus at distances ranging from 2.3 AU to 3.8 AU. Based on this assumption we calculated its color, and found average values of g'-r' = 0.50 +/- 0.04, r'-i' = 0.17 +/- 0.03, and i'-z' = 0.06 +/- 0.04. These are notably more blue than those of the nuclei of other Jupiter family and long period comets. Furthermore, assuming a bare nucleus, we found an equivalent nuclear radius of 3.4 +/- 0.2 km with an axial ratio of at least 1.6 +/- 0.1. The lightcurve clearly displays one large peak, one broad flat peak, and two distinct troughs, with a clear asymmetry that suggests that the shape of the nucleus deviates from that of a simple triaxial ellipsoid. This asymmetry in the lightcurve allowed us to constrain the nuclear rotation period to 4.10 +/- 0.03 hours and 4.096 +/- 0.002 hours before and after perihelion, respectively. Within the uncertainties, 96P's rotation period does not appear to have changed throughout the apparition, and we conclude a maximum possible change in rotation period of 130 seconds. The observed properties were compared to those of comet 322P and interstellar object 1I/'Oumuamua in an attempt to study the effects of close perihelion passages on cometary surfaces and their internal structure, and the potential interstellar origin of 96P.

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  • astro-ph.EP

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