SuperWASP observations of the 2007 outburst of Comet 17P/Holmes

Abstract

We present wide-field imaging of the 2007 outburst of Comet 17P/Holmes obtained serendipitously by SuperWASP-North on 17 nights over a 42-night period beginning on the night (2007 October 22–23) immediately prior to the outburst. Photometry of 17P’s unresolved coma in SuperWASP data taken on the first night of the outburst is consistent with exponential brightening, suggesting that the rapid increase in the scattering cross-section of the coma could be largely due to the progressive fragmentation of ejected material produced on a very short time-scale at the time of the initial outburst, with fragmentation time-scales decreasing from tfrag ∼ 2 × 103 to ∼ 1 × 103 s over our observing period. Analysis of the expansion of 17P’s coma reveals a velocity gradient suggesting that the outer coma was dominated by material ejected in an instantaneous, explosive manner. We find an expansion velocity at the edge of the dust coma of vexp = 0.55 ± 0.02 km s−1 and a likely outburst date of t0 = 2007 October 23.3 ± 0.3, consistent with our finding that the comet remained below SuperWASP’s detection limit of mV ∼ 15 mag until at least 2007 October 23.3. Modelling of 17P’s gas coma indicates that its outer edge, which was observed to extend past the outer dust coma, is best explained with a single pulse of gas production, consistent with our conclusions concerning the production of the outer dust coma.

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