Optical observations of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with the Nordic Optical Telescope
Comet activity before the solar conjunction
1 Tuorla Observatory, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Turku, Väisäläntie 20, 21500 Piikkiö, Finland
2 Finnish Centre for Astronomy with ESO (FINCA), Väisäläntie 20, 21500 Piikkiö, Finland
3 Nordic Optical Telescope, Apartado 474, 38700 Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain
4 Planetary and Space Sciences, Department of Physical Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK
5 ESA/ESTEC, Research and Scientific Support Department, PO Box 299, 2200 AG Noordwijk, The Netherlands
Received: 21 January 2015
Accepted: 31 July 2015
Context. 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) is a short-period Jupiter-family comet that was chosen as a target for the Rosetta mission by the European Space Agency (ESA). Monitoring of 67P with the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT; La Palma, Spain) intends to aid this mission by providing ground-based reference information about the overall activity of the target and its astrometric position before the rendezvous. One motivation for our observations was to monitor sudden major increases in activity because they might have affected the Rosetta mission planning. None were observed. Ground-based photometric observations register the global activity of the comet, while the Rosetta spacecraft mostly measures local events. These data combined can lead to new insights into the comet behavior.
Aims. The aim of this work is to perform the photometric and the astrometric monitoring of comet 67P with the NOT and to compare the results with the latest predictions for its position and activity. A new method of fitting extended-source components to the target surface brightness distribution was developed and applied to the data to estimate the size and contribution of the coma to the total brightness of the target.
Methods. Comet 67P was monitored by the NOT in service mode during the period between 12.5.2013 and 11.11.2014. The very first observations were performed in the V band alone, but in the latest observations, the R band was used as well to estimate the color and nature of activity of the target. We applied a new method for estimating the coma size by deconvolving the point spread function profile from the image, which used Markov chain Monte Carlo and Bayesian statistics. This method will also be used for coma size estimations in further observations after the solar conjunction of 67P.
Results. Photometric magnitudes in two colors were monitored during the period of observations. At the end of April 2014, the beginning of activity was observed. In late September 2014, a minor dip in cometary activity was measured. Otherwise, the activity of the comet was close to the expected values. For some of the observations, we were able to determine limits for the physical size and brightness of the coma by studying the surface brightness distribution of the target. The astrometric calibration results we obtained were consistent with the predictions of the ephemerides of the Minor Planet Center, but at the moment these results are superseded with the more precise astrometric data from the Rosetta spacecraft.
Key words: comets: individual: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko / techniques: photometric / astrometry
© ESO, 2015