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Episodic Ejection from Active Asteroid 311P/PANSTARRS

  • Jewitt, David
  • Agarwal, Jessica
  • Weaver, Harold
  • Mutchler, Max
  • Larson, Stephen
Publication Date
Nov 03, 2014
Submission Date
Oct 30, 2014
DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/798/2/109
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We examine the development of the active asteroid 311P/PANSTARRS (formerly, 2013 P5) in the period from 2013 September to 2014 February using high resolution images from the Hubble Space Telescope. This multi-tailed object is characterized by a single, reddish nucleus of absolute magnitude $H \ge$ 18.98$\pm$0.10, corresponding to an equal-area sphere of radius $\le$200$\pm$20 m (for assumed geometric albedo 0.29$\pm$0.09). We set an upper limit to the radii of possible companion nuclei at $\sim$10 m. The nucleus ejected debris in nine discrete episodes, spread irregularly over a nine month interval, each time forming a distinct tail. Particles in the tails range from about 10 $\mu$m to at least 80 mm in radius, and were ejected at speeds $<$1 m s$^{-1}$. The ratio of the total ejected dust mass to the nucleus mass is $\sim$3$\times$10$^{-5}$, corresponding to a global surface layer $\sim$2 mm thick, or to a deeper layer covering a smaller fraction of the surface. The observations are incompatible with an origin of the activity by impact or by the sublimation of entrapped ice. This object appears to be shedding its regolith by rotational (presumably YORP-driven) instability. Long-term fading of the photometry (months) is attributed to gradual dissipation of near-nucleus dust. Photometric variations on short timescales ($<$0.7 hr) are probably caused by fast rotation of the nucleus. However, because of limited time coverage and dilution of the nucleus signal by near-nucleus dust, we have not been able to determine the rotation period.

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