Physical characteristics of Comet Nucleus C/2001 OG108 (LONEOS)

Paul A. Abell, Yanga R. Fernández, Petr Pravec, Linda M. French, Tony L. Farnham, Michael J. Gaffey, Paul S. Hardersen, Peter Kušnirák, Lenka Šarounová, Scott S. Sheppard, Gautham Narayan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A detailed description of the Halley-type Comet C/2001 OG108 (LONEOS) has been derived from visible, near-infrared, and mid-infrared observations obtained in October and November 2001. These data represent the first high-quality ground-based observations of a bare Halley-type comet nucleus and provide the best characterization of a Halley-type comet other than 1P/Halley itself. Analysis of time series photometry suggests that the nucleus has a rotation period of 57.2 ± 0.5 h with a minimum nuclear axial ratio of 1.3, a phase-darkening slope parameter G of -0.01 ± 0.10, and an estimated H = 13.05 ± 0.10. The rotation period of C/2001 OG108 is one of the longest observed among comet nuclei. The V-R color index for this object is measured to be 0.46 ± 0.02, which is virtually identical to that of other cometary nuclei and other possible extinct comet candidates. Measurements of the comet's thermal emission constrain the projected elliptical nuclear radii to be 9.6 ± 1.0 km and 7.4 ± 1.0 km, which makes C/2001 OG108 one of the larger cometary nuclei known. The derived geometric albedo in V-band of 0.040 ± 0.010 is typical for comet nuclei. Visible-wavelength spectrophotometry and near-infrared spectroscopy were combined to derive the nucleus's reflectance spectrum over a 0.4 to 2.5 μm wavelength range. These measurements represent one of the few nuclear spectra ever observed and the only known spectrum of a Halley-type comet. The spectrum of this comet nucleus is very nearly linear and shows no discernable absorption features at a 5% detection limit. The lack of any features, especially in the 0.8 to 1.0 μm range such as are seen in the spectra of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites and many low-albedo asteroids, is consistent with the presence of anhydrous rather than hydrous silicates on the surface of this comet. None of the currently recognized meteorites in the terrestrial collections have reflectance spectra that match C/2001 OG108. The near-infrared spectrum, the geometric albedo, and the visible spectrophotometry all indicate that C/2001 OG108 has spectral properties analogous to the D-type, and possibly P-type asteroids. Comparison of the measured albedo and diameter of C/2001 OG108 with those of Damocloid asteroids reveals similarities between these asteroids and this comet nucleus, a finding which supports previous dynamical arguments that Damocloid asteroids could be composed of cometary-like materials. These observations are also consistent with findings that two Jupiter-family comets may have spectral signatures indicative of D-type asteroids. C/ 2001 OG108 probably represents the transition from a typical active comet to an extinct cometary nucleus, and, as a Halley-type comet, suggests that some comets originating in the Oort cloud can become extinct without disintegrating. As a near-Earth object, C/2001 OG108 supports the suggestion that some fraction of the near-Earth asteroid population consists of extinct cometary nuclei.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-194
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Comets, composition
  • Comets, origin
  • Infrared observations
  • Near-Earth asteroids, origin
  • Visible observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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