DPS 2001 meeting, November 2001
Session 12. Kuiper Belt and KBOs Posters
Displayed, 9:00am Tuesday - 3:00pm Saturday, Highlighted, Tuesday, November 27, 2001, 5:00-7:00pm, French Market Exhibit Hall

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[12.10] Rotation and Color Studies of Centaurs, KBOs and Comets

T.L. Farnham (Univ. of Texas)

We present results from an ongoing study of the rotational and color properties of Centaurs, Kuiper belt objects and distant comets. Measurements of the rotation states and the shapes of these objects can lead to constraints on their density and composition, while colors and color variations as a function of rotational phase lead to information about their surface properties.

Our most interesting object to date is 20000~Varuna (2000~WR106), a classical KBO discovered on 28~November~2000. We obtained CCD images of Varuna in January, March and September 2001, and performed photometry to measure variations in the lightcurve as a function of time. Our data show periodic variations with a peak-to-peak amplitude of 0.5~mag. Because Varuna is very large (900~km diameter; Jewitt et al. 2001), we may assume that it is spherical and the lightcurve variations are produced by albedo features on its surface, with one hemisphere reflecting 60% more light than the other. If this interpretation is correct, then the lightcurve is single-peaked with a period of 3.17~hr, (though secondary periods of 2.79 and 3.66~hr cannot be ruled out). With this period, Varuna is very close to the critical rotation rate for a body with a density around 1~g~cm-3 (Pcrit=(3\pi/G\rho)1/2=3.3~hr), indicating that it either has a density greater than 1 or it has internal strength. An alternative case is that the lightcurve is double-peaked, with a 6.34~hr period. This is also interesting because either it is the largest known elongated body in the solar system, with a minimum axial ratio a/b=1.6, or it is a binary KBO.

Among the other objects to be addressed is 2001~PT13, a Centaur with an 8.4~hr period. The 0.15~mag amplitude in its lightcurve indicates that this object has a minimum axial ratio a/b=1.2. Results for other objects will also be presented, including those for which no rotational variation was found.

This work was funded by NASA.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: farnham@astro.as.utexas.edu

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