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Lightcurves of comets and Kuiper belt objects as probes of the Solar system past

Detail Summary
Date 12 October 2017
Time 12:00 -13:00
Rosita Kokotanekova

Recently, the opportunity to use the current properties of small Solar-system bodies as a window to the past has brought minor planets into the spotlight of space exploration. Space missions like Rosetta and New Horizons have provided spectacular discoveries on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and the Pluto system. However, in order to fully understand these results we need to place them in the broad context of other small bodies and to compare them with large samples of Jupiter family comets (JFCs) and Trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs).

Rotational lightcurves are among the most powerful tools to study the physical characteristics of small bodies from ground. Lightcurves can be used to reveal the objects’ spin rates as well as to constrain their shapes, densities and compositions. Despite the compelling opportunities this method provides, the number of JFCs and TNOs with well sampled lightcurves remains too low for significant statistical analysis.

Here, I will present the results from our TNOs and JFCs observing programs. Our data have allowed us to increase significantly the number of objects with known rotational properties and surface characteristics. The expanded samples allowed us to constrain the physical characteristics of JFCs and TNOs and to test different hypotheses for the formation and evolution of minor bodies in the Solar system.