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Cometary Rotation

Wednesday, December 8, 2004
Mueller (PSI)

The ensemble properties of cometary nuclei are not well known, although comets have been observed for centuries and a few have been even visited by space-crafts. The present composition and structure of cometary nuclei hold information about the physical conditions in the early nebula and the processes associated with planetary formation. Comets with short rotation periods are of special interest because the lower limit of the rotational period would constrain their density and tensile strength. Most comets are expected to be in a non-principal axis spin state but that is not what is observed. There are two reasons for this discrepancy: (a) lightcurve observations are not accurate enough to detect slightly excited spin states, and/or (b) the damping times and/or excitation times are incorrect. I will talk about challenges and tools for deriving cometary rotation, and the implications a large database of known cometary spin states could have on our understanding of cometary nuclei, their origin and their evolution.

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