EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 508, Number 2, December III 2009
Page(s) 1045 - 1056
Section Planets and planetary systems
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/200811462
Published online 21 October 2009
A&A 508, 1045-1056 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/200811462

Properties of the nuclei and comae of 13 ecliptic comets from Hubble Space Telescope snapshot observations

P. L. Lamy1, I. Toth1, 2, H. A. Weaver3, M. F. A'Hearn4, and L. Jorda1

1  Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, UMR6110 CNRS/Université de Provence, 38 rue Frédéric Joliot-Curie, 13388 Marseille Cedex 13, France
    e-mail: philippe.lamy@oamp.fr
2  Konkoly Observatory, Budapest 1525, PO Box 67, Hungary
3  Applied Physics Laboratory, The Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, MD 20723-6099, USA
4  Department of Astronomy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA

Received 2 December 2008 / Accepted 13 October 2009

Context. Knowledge of the size distribution of cometary nuclei and, more generally, of their physical properties is important for constraining models of the formation and evolution of the Solar System.
Aims. We report on our on-going effort to determine the ensemble properties of comets based on our success in detecting the nuclei of active comets with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).
Methods. During cycle 8 (July 1999 to June 2000), we observed 13 ecliptic comets with the planetary camera 2 through at least two filters (V and R) and up to four (B, V, R, I) for the brightest ones. The ~30 min of HST observational time devoted to each comet did not permit a proper determination of light curves, so our “snapshot” observations yield effective radii, not shapes.
Results. Assuming spherical nuclei with a geometric albedo of 0.04 for the R band (except 0.024 for 10P/Tempel 2, as independently measured) and a phase law of 0.04 mag/deg, we obtained the following effective radii: 4P/Faye: 1.77 km, 10P/Tempel 2: 5.98 km, 17P/Holmes: 1.71 km, 37P/Forbes: 0.81 km 44P/Reinmuth 2: 1.61 km, 50P/Arend: 0.95 km, 59P/Kearns–Kwee: 0.79 km, 63P/Wild 1: 1.46 km, 71P/Clark: 0.68 km, 84P/Giclas: 0.90 km, 106P/Schuster: 0.94 km, 112P/Urata–Niijima: 0.90 km, 114P/Wiseman–Skiff: 0.78 km. In our present sample, eight out of thirteen nuclei have sub-kilometer radii. The average color of the observed nuclei is (V-R) = 0.52$\pm$0.04, which is significantly redder than the Sun. We determined the dust activity parameter $Af\rho$ of their coma in the R band, and estimated the dust production rates. The average reflectivity gradient of the dust comae of six comets is S$^\prime$ [670,792 nm] = 15.2$\pm$2.3% per kÅ.

Key words: comets: general -- methods: data analysis -- techniques: photometric -- techniques: image processing -- telescopes -- solar system: general

© ESO 2009