Water Production of Comet C/1999 S4 (LINEAR) Observed with the SWAN Instrument

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Science  18 May 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5520, pp. 1326-1329
DOI: 10.1126/science.1060858

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The SWAN (Solar Wind ANisotropies) Lyman-alpha all-sky camera on the SOHO spacecraft observed the hydrogen coma of comet C/1999 S4 (LINEAR) from the end of May through mid-August 2000. A systematic set of water-production rates was obtained for this well-documented event of complete fragmentation of a cometary nucleus. The observations indicate that the lower limit for the sunlit surface area of the nucleus was about 1 square kilometer before the fragmentation and that the amount of water released throughout the observing period was 3.3 × 109 kilograms. Evidence suggests that the activity of the comet was dominated by successive fragmentation. There were four major outbursts, occurring about every 16 days. The 21 July event led to the complete fragmentation and sublimation of what remained of the nucleus, producing the last 3 × 108kilograms of water. A model where the fragment size distribution follows the power law N(R) ∼R 2.7, where Nand R are the number and radius of fragments, reproduces the observed dissipation. This distribution possibly reflects the internal structure of the nucleus.

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