Mid-infrared spectrophotometric observations of fragments B and C of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3

David E. Harker, Charles E. Woodward, Michael S. Kelley, Michael L. Sitko, Diane H. Wooden, David K. Lynch, Ray W. Russell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


We present mid-infrared spectra and images from the Gemini-N (+ Michelle) observations of fragments SW3-[B] and SW3-[C] of the ecliptic (Jupiter family) comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 pre-perihelion. We observed fragment B soon after an outburst event (between 2006 April 16-26 UT) and detected crystalline silicates. The mineralogy of both fragments was dominated by amorphous carbon and amorphous pyroxene. The grain size distribution (assuming aHanner-modified power law) for fragment SW3-[B] has a peak grain radius of ap ∼ 0.5μm, and for fragment SW3-[C], ap ∼ 0.3μm; both values are larger than the peak grain radius of the size distribution for the dust ejected from ecliptic comet 9P/Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact event (a p = 0.2μm). The silicateto- carbon ratio and the silicate crystalline mass fraction for the submicron to micron-sized portion of the grain size distribution on the nucleus of fragment SW3-[B] were 1.341 -0.253+0.250 and 0.335+0.089 -0.112, respectively, while on the nucleus of fragment SW3-[C] they were 0.671 -0.076+0.076 and 0.257-0.043+0.039, respectively. The similarity in mineralogy and grain properties between the two fragments implies that 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 is homogeneous in composition. The slight differences in grain size distribution and silicate-to-carbon ratio between the two fragments likely arise because SW3-[B] was actively fragmenting throughout its passage while the activity in SW3-[C] was primarily driven by jets. The lack of diverse mineralogy in the fragments SW3-[B] and SW3-[C] of 73P/ Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 along with the relatively larger peak in the coma grain size distribution suggests that the parent body of this comet may have formed in a region of the solar nebulawith different environmental properties than the natal sites where comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) and 9P/Tempel 1 nuclei aggregated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Comets: general
  • Comets: individual (73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3)
  • Methods: data analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Mid-infrared spectrophotometric observations of fragments B and C of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this