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Title: Observations of comet ISON (C/2012 S1) from Lowell observatory

We observed the dynamically new sungrazing comet ISON (C/2012 S1) extensively at Lowell Observatory throughout 2013 in order to characterize its behavior prior to perihelion. ISON had “typical” abundances for an Oort Cloud comet. Its dust production, as measured by Afρ, remained nearly constant during the apparition but its CN gas production increased by ∼50 ×. The minimum active area necessary to support observed water production rates exceeded the likely surface area of the nucleus and suggests a population of icy grains in the coma. Together with the flattening of the dust radial profile over time, this is consistant with ejection of a large quantity of slow moving dust and icy grains in the coma at large heliocentric distance. The dust morphology was dominated by the tail, but a faint sunward dust fan was detected in March, April, May, and September. We imaged multiple gas species in September, October, and November. All gas species were more extended than the dust coma, although only CN had sufficient signal-to-noise for detailed morphological study. Excess CN signal was observed in the sunward hemisphere in September and early October. In November the excess CN signal was in the tailward hemisphere and two faint CNmore » features appeared approximately orthogonal to the tail with position angles varying by about ±20° from night to night. Using numerical modeling, we best reproduced the orientation and shape of these features as well as the bulk brightness with a pole oriented approximately toward the Sun and a single source located within ∼35° of the equator. Variations in position angle and relative brightness of the CN features from night to night suggest a rotation period shorter than 24 hr. The production rates and coma morphology suggest a nucleus that was active over nearly its entire sunward facing hemisphere in September and October but which underwent a significant mass loss event, potentially including fragmentation, shortly before November 1. Significant subsequent mass loss likely continued at the same site over subsequent days/weeks and may have catastrophically weakened the nucleus prior to perihelion.« less
Authors:
 [1] ;  [2]
  1. Lowell Observatory, 1400 W. Mars Hill Rd., Flagstaff, AZ 86001 (United States)
  2. Visiting Scientist at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd., Laurel, MD 20723 (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
22342168
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Astronomical Journal (New York, N.Y. Online); Journal Volume: 149; Journal Issue: 1; Other Information: Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
79 ASTROPHYSICS, COSMOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY; ABUNDANCE; APPROXIMATIONS; BRIGHTNESS; COMETS; DATA ANALYSIS; DISTANCE; DUSTS; FRAGMENTATION; IMAGES; MASS TRANSFER; NOISE; ORIENTATION; ROTATION; STELLAR WINDS; SUN; SURFACE AREA