Activity on the surface of the nucleus of comet 46P/Wirtanen

O. Groussin, P. Lamy
2003 Astronomy and Astrophysics  
We present a thermal model of the nucleus of comet 46P/Wirtanen, constrained by the temporal variations of the water production rate, in order to understand the activity on its surface. We consider a spherical nucleus with a macroscopic mosaic of small and numerous active and inactive regions. At heliocentric distances r h > 1.5 AU, the active regions represent 5-15% of the surface. At ∼1.5 AU, a rapid increase takes place and the active fraction reaches 70 to 100% in about 10 days, and then
more » ... 0 days, and then remains approximately constant up to perihelion where Q H 2 O = 1.3 ± 0.3 × 10 28 molecule s −1 . Post-perihelion, this fraction returns to ∼10%. The model is consistent with a geometric albedo ≤0.06. A refractory crust likely forms post-perihelion and can explain the variations of the activity over an orbit. Finally, we derived an erosion of ∼0.5 m per revolution and a remaining lifetime for the nucleus of several hundred revolutions.
doi:10.1051/0004-6361:20031496 fatcat:nulq6qsyjbhwvhqv6v3lzdc3dm