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Splitting of long-period Comet C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS)

Hui, Man-To, Kelley, Michael S. P., Hung, Denise, Lister, Tim, Chatelain, Joseph, Gomez, Edward ORCID: and Greenstreet, Sarah 2023. Splitting of long-period Comet C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS). Astronomical Journal 166 (2) , 47. 10.3847/1538-3881/acdc9c

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Long-period comet C/2018 F4 (PANSTARRS) was observed to show duplicity of its inner region in 2020 September, suggestive of a splitting event. We here present analyses of our observations of the comet taken from the LCO Outbursting Objects Key project and the University of Hawaii 2.2 m telescope after the discovery of the splitting. The two fragments Components A and B, estimated to be ∼60 m to 4 km in radius, remained highly similar to each other in terms of brightness, color, and dust morphology throughout our observing campaign from 2020 September to 2021 December. Our fragmentation model yielded that the two components split at a relative speed of 3.00 ± 0.18 m s−1 in 2020 late April, implying a specific energy change of 5.3±2.8×103 J kg−1, and that Component B was subjected to a stronger nongravitational acceleration than Component A in both the radial and normal directions of the orbit. The obtained splitting time is broadly consistent with the result from the dust morphology analysis, which further suggested that the dominant dust grains were millimeter-sized and ejected at a speed of ∼2 m s−1. We postulate that the pre-split nucleus of the comet consisted of two lobes resembling that of 67P, or that the comet used to be a binary system like main-belt comet 288P. Regardless, we highlight the possibility of using observations of split comets as a feasible manner to study the bilobate shape or binarity fraction of cometary nuclei.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Physics and Astronomy
Additional Information: License information from Publisher: LICENSE 1: URL:, Type: cc-by
Publisher: IOP Publishing
ISSN: 0004-6256
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 July 2023
Date of Acceptance: 6 June 2023
Last Modified: 07 Jul 2023 05:59

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